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Each week in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.

In C. S. Lewis’s semi-sequel to The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” his titular demon opines that democracy can easily be corrupted into lies, simply by erasing the distinction between the idea that people ought to be treated equally and the idea that people actually are equal. Obviously, while the former may indeed be true, the latter almost certainly isn’t. “Equal in dignity” is a very different thing from “equal in all respects,” which clearly doesn’t describe the human race, whether we’d like it to or not. Not all of us can write a Top-40 hit, not all of us can throw the winning pass in the Super Bowl, and not all of us can put on a successful fandom conference.

If that last bit of the list seems oddly specific, I suppose that’s because it is. It’s also timely, because yet another Internet fandom conference recently went down in flames, blowing up Twitter and the blogosphere as it did. DashCon 2014—originally sold as TumblCon 2014—began as an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a conference about the sort of things that Tumblr users are into (presumably excluding fetish porn) and quickly exploded into insanity. The whole saga can be read here, but in brief: The night that festivities were supposed to begin, they had to ask guests for another $17,000 to cover the hotel costs; all featured speakers (including several popular content creators like the folks behind Welcome to Night Vale) were forced to cover their own accommodations at the last second; most panel discussions were canceled; and the organizers attempted to placate disappointed guests with “an extra hour in the ball pit” (which was actually just a kiddie pool and a few plastic balls).

The actual events of the weekend are now the stuff of legend, and you’re welcome to read up on them if you want (just follow the links). There have even been rumors that the whole thing was some sort of grift, but the general consensus seems to be that a crowd-funded convention put on by a handful of twentysomethings with no experience hosting conventions was bound to be an embarrassing mess, and the fact that it looked like a grift was essentially coincidental. What it was, was a simple failed conference.

I guess it’s no surprise that someone attempted to put on a Tumblr convention. Fan conventions, after all, are a dime a dozen in the Internet age, where we can all find people of like mind, no matter how pointlessly obscure our interests are, and then we inevitably feel like getting together and rolling around in balls with each other (well, at least the furries do, anyway). And it’s not a surprise, either, that so many of them are crowd-funded. That’s how you do funding on the Internet.

Nor is it a surprise that so many of them fail.

After all, crowd-funding, on the one hand, is democratization. It makes big, creative acts accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise have that access. Numerous useful inventions and great works of art have come out of it. On the other hand, though, “the medium is the message,” and the existence of crowd-funding resources like Indiegogo telegraph the idea (intentionally or not) that everyone ought to attempt these things. By granting access to everyone, they imply that this access should be used. The immediate results (equal access) are arguably good, but the ontological implications (equal merit) are less so.

Technology, in the wrong hands, always has unintended consequences—ever since Prometheus stole fire from the gods, people have been doing stupid stuff with it. And most of the terrible stuff to come from crowd-funding is essentially harmless stuff like lousy inventions and terrible albums, but in a case like DashCon, people genuinely got hurt. A lot of fans who were just hoping to have a fun weekend engaging with artists and other fans are out hundreds—even thousands—of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

The obvious lesson here, I think, is that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you ought to. Jesus taught that “everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required,” and the power of crowd-funding has been given to all of us. What will we do with it?

Personally, I’m going to use it to hire an experienced event planner for BronieGothCon ’14.


2 Comments

  1. I’m reminded of The Master Switch written by Timothy Wu who postulates a Cycle in communication history that moves between open and closed communication, with the Internet getting closer and closeder.

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