Wordcamp Minneapolis was a fantastic time this weekend. It’s probably been the first time where I’ve felt part of an excited group of people. I’ve been to academic get-togethers before, but there’s something different between being a part of an excited group of people and being part of a crowd looking at and trying to find holes in specific aspects.
I’m going to compare and contrast WordCamp with my experiences at the Myth Symposium I went to last year. It was a marked difference.
I’m guessing a good bit of it was me, personally. I went to the Myth confere…*coughcough* symposium last year as a scholar. There were few presentations that really appealed to me on that level. There were a lot of stories that were of a very personal caliber: this is how I interfaced with the material, this is how the journey spoke to me, these are the names of my mythic ancestors that I identify with, etc.
The bottom line with the symposium is that I attended and viewed a lot of the presentations with a very jaundiced academic eye. I looked for holes, and lo and behold, I found many of them. I compared (unfairly, I admit) the quality of their academic side to how my academic presentation would have been. I left the symposium thinking that a fraction of it had been useful, while the majority of it had been fluff. My discussions with others there backed up my conceptions.
My experience at Wordcamp, however, was almost 180 degrees opposite. I found that even with some of the presentations being below my level and not very helpful, there were always one or two tidbits that would prove useful down the line. I actually felt part of an appreciative audience here, one that knew how it was to deal with wordpress, clients, and the minutiae of web development. Even when we didn’t know them personally, it was easy to talk with them about what we were doing and what they were doing. Everyone seemed very excited to tackle the aspects of wordpress development that were discussed. Heck, just check the twitter feed for the hashtag wcmpls. A lot of positives. I’m not sure that academic conferences can compare.
Now, as I said, a lot of it was probably me. I went to the myth symposium with the idea that perhaps I would run into interesting information that would benefit me, but perhaps mainly looking for ways that the presentations fell apart (in retrospect, perhaps that need was not necessary). I felt like I was an outsider looking in on these personal interactions with myth, never once like I was an academic discussing ways to interface with these stories and use them to educate. Some of that may be the general idea behind the symposium in not living up to my ideal of an academic conference, some of it may be the choices they made for presenters, some of it (I admit) may have been professional jealousy.
I had none of these feelings at Wordcamp. I felt like I was actually a part of a group that was all looking for different ideas and different ways of interfacing with something that we all had in common. We shared tips, hints, and similar complaints. It was very interesting, I think, to have actually been part of a group that understood where I was coming from when I said something.
One thing to note is that this may have been part of the organization: Wordcamp was clearly delineated as far as what aspect was being discussed, things were moved around in a clear manner, and they didn’t try to do too much. It was a well balanced conference. Kudos to them for getting it set up like that.
It may also have had to do with the fact that the conference was set up to help developers with wordpress. That goal, which was different than the seeming goal of the myth conference (allow people to share their personal experience with myth) may be why I found Wordcamp so enjoyable and why I found the myth conference so grating.
Although, as I’ve pointed out, it could also be because I’m an asshole. Let’s not take that off the table.