I was happy to see Theorizing the Web go so well for so many people. The committee has been getting a lot of positive and constructive feedback and we’re reading all of it. If you feel so moved to write your own reflections on #TtW15 please send them our way. Last year, my post-conference thoughts were all about labor and the dangers of doing what you love. That’s still a problem ––TtW relies almost completely on volunteer labor–– but this year I’m thinking more about the institutions that prop up the typical Hilton-hosted conference model and make it difficult, if not financially impossible, to have more events like Theorizing the Web.
Our pay-what-you-want donation model reflects our commitment to lowering the barriers to participation in theorizing, but it is also indicative of all the little mundane ways that traditional academic institutions and TtW are not compatible. Most institutions have a little bit of money put aside for travel and conference costs, but need proof that the conference asks for a certain amount of money before funds can be approved. Without a posted conference fee many of our attendees (me included) have no mechanism by which to expense the registration cost and thus end up paying their donation out-of-pocket. By choosing to not demand money from all attendees, we forgo the kind of money that average disciplinary associations receive every year.
Because we work out of unusual places we usually have to install a large, but temporary, internet connection. Internet service providers rarely, if ever, have someone asking to buy a single month’s worth of their biggest commercial line. We’ve tried to buy less (We only use it for one weekend!) but companies selling lots of bandwidth only work in monthly increments. I’m pretty sure we have become notorious to Time Warner Cable installation crews too—as we typically run multiple lines in the same building. Nothing about the conference fits neatly into the forms and procedures of a typical cable customer.
There are really important reasons why, for the last two years, we have opted to put Theorizing the Web in unorthodox locations. The early American university was purposefully isolated- it gave students a space where they were safe to make radical claims and were free from distractions so that they could get work done. If anything has been held over from that early time, it is the isolation that campuses breed. There’s a time and a place for that and TtW isn’t it. We want people to come off of the street, register really fast, and check out what’s happening. Few venues make this serendipity possible, but it is an important feature that we look for in selecting a venue. In the last two years we’ve had lots of people come in, listen for a few minutes and leave. Some stay. The ones that stick around are tremendously important to us.
All of this is to say that Theorizing the Web could actually be even cheaper than it already is, if we weren’t such an anomaly to venues, Internet Service Providers, and employers. TtW comes up against many of the actual and immediate material costs of constructing alternative institutions. There’s nothing quite like TtW but we hope that changes soon. We can’t meet the demand for this sort of project and if there were more organizations like TtW it might be easier for all of us. Until then, feel free to send us your suggestions and recommendations for making TtW16 even better: http://theorizingtheweb.tumblr.com/askDavid is on Twitter