For those of you who have not heard of ROFLcon, Breadpig, Institute on Higher Awesome Studies, or Awesome Foundation – there is a very cool person that all of these groups have in common. That person would be a lady and her lady name is Christina Xu! I got very lucky to do an interview with Christina specifically about ROFLCon, however at the end of this article, you should check our her TedxBoston Talk about the Awesome Foundation.
If you want to keep up with Christina on a daily basis, best to check out her Twitter @Chrysaora
GH: Identify yourself.
My name is Christina Xu. I’m a level 23 human and I enjoy long meals on the beach.
GH: Let’s start this out easy, what was your first video game?
My grandparents had this weird knock-off Famicom/pseudo-computer thing that came with 180 games (woohoo, China in the 80s). My cousins and I played the crap out of Super Mario Bros on that!
GH: Okay, now that is out of the way, what is this ROFLcon business about?
ROFLCon is a biennial conference/convention about the internet’s communities and cultures. Since 2008, we’ve been bringing together internet celebrities, creators of popular pieces of media, founders and administrators of important communities, and academics for serious (but still very funny!) dialogues about what makes it all tick. At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of insightful discussions wrapped in a goofy and enthusiastic celebration of everything we love about the internet.
GH: How did you start it?
My friend Tim Hwang and I went to the XKCD meetup in 2007 and were totally blown away at the creative energy and the hilarity of the mass of geeks that had assembled. We started joking about how great it would be to put Tron Guy and Goatse in a room together, and then we made a placeholder website and some Google docs, and before we knew it we had hundreds of dollars of ticket sales in an envelope under Tim’s bed. At that point, we realized we actually had to, uh, plan a conference and started assembling volunteers. A bunch of awesome girl geeks were integral to bringing ROFLCon to life: Diana Kimball, Carrie Andersen, Rachel Popkin, and Susannah Roush deserve special shoutouts!
We knew absolutely nothing about organizing a conference: ROFLCon is basically held together with crazy dreams, jokes gone amuck, millions of emails, and lots of color-coded, cross-referenced spreadsheets! We made everything up as we went along and tried the craziest stuff (like calling an aquarium in Japan to find the guy who stole the LOLrus’s bucket). As a result, I think ROFLCon has a very whimsical and experimental character to it which everyone seems to enjoy.
GH: What has been the coolest moment for you so far with ROFLcon?
Jeez, that’s the toughest question yet. There are so many to choose from! I’d have to go with either A) Leeroy Jenkins telling his famous pirate joke to me and moot (the founder of 4chan) at an afterparty 1 or B) watching Christian Lander and Baratunde Thurston, two of the smartest funny people of all time, trade witty remarks during a panel that I put together at ROFLCon 2.
GH: Okay, ROFLcon lady, what do you ACTUALLY do when you type “lol” or “LULZ”, etc? Or do you even use them?
After careful thought, I don’t have much of a set hierarchy! Mostly, I type some variation of “hehe” or “lolol” or “dyiiiing” or “=D”, and use as many extra letters/caps/exclamation points as necessary to convey how hard I’m laughing. It’s rare that I laugh out loud at my computer out of conditioning (reading Reddit during class, for example), but I’ll usually smile and type very…expressively.
GH: What is a typical day like for you, in general?
Well, my day job is at the fabulous geek purveyor Breadpig, so I’ll do anything from designing new products to answering customer service emails. Breadpig is a tiny and fledgling operation, so there’s never a dull moment; some days I’m organizing dinosaur-themed launch parties, others I’m brainstorming new ways we can use our internet savvy and geek fanbase to help nonprofits out. I read Reddit a lot and can claim it’s “for work”. It’s basically any geek who’s interested in do-goodery’s dream job, and I couldn’t be happier.
On the side, I’m creating the Institute on Higher Awesome Studies (www.awesomestudies.org), a nonprofit dedicated to spreading the Awesome Foundation model (www.awesomefoundation.org) to places that have traditionally received aid or development assistance. It’s fun, challenging, and full of paperwork–but it all says “Higher Awesome Studies” on it, so that keeps me giggling.
We made ROFLCon biennial so that we could have a year off to recover (yes, it takes that long), but when we’re working on it it takes up most of my free time: we have to track down and invite internet celebrities, book flights and hotels, fumble around for venues, come up with programming, create a volunteer system that works, AND remember to save enough time/energy to plan the really ridiculous stunts that make it memorable. It’s a lot, but luckily the context makes everything kind of funny and we’ve always had amazing people working on the team.
And by night, after I’m done dealing with all of this stuff, I like to relax by making and eating enormous dinners, and then losing at video games to my roommates (who both work for a video game company, to my credit). Lately I’ve also been dabbling in music production as part of Anigif (http://www.soundcloud.com/anigif)–we make video game music remixes you can shake your booty to.
GH: What is your favorite monkey, if you had to pick one.
Ooh, I’d have to go with Sun Wukong, the badass monkey king from Journey to the West. I know he’s not real but let me make my case here: dude FLIES ON CLOUDS, has a magical stick, can shapeshift, and is totally sweet at martial arts. And people have been mesmerized by his story for more than 400 years!
GH: I’ve read that you grew up on the Internet. Define that.
When someone asks you where you’re from, they’re trying to find out a little about your background and maybe find something to connect with you about. I *actually* grew up in Columbus, Ohio (and Fuzhou, China before that!), but I don’t think that explains much about who I am. During middle school and high school, I spent probably 10 hours a day at least online every day–much more during the summers. I had a lot of friends at school, but lived too far away to really hang out with them at night. As a result, I don’t really have any favorite haunts in Columbus, but the internet is a totally different story. I had a really close-knit group of internet friends who totally got me through my teenage years. Believe it or not, I learned a lot of my social skills through forums and instant messaging!
So if people are asking me where I’m coming from, what experiences I grew up with, and what was most formative to me–“the internet” is a much better answer than any real place!
Luckily, I ended up being able to make a “career” out of what I loved. All that time I wasted on the internet growing up became really valuable experience: first for my undergrad studies (I studied History of Science, focusing on the internet-based communications), then for ROFLCon, and now for my day job at Breadpig.
GH: What advice would you have for any lady out there who wants to do something similar to you?
Aside from the usual “follow your heart, persist, believe in yourself” stuff? In the geek world (and many others), one of the most awkward and frustrating moments for a woman (or other people of marginalized genders/races) is when someone calls out the discrimination in a community you’re part of and suddenly it feels like you have to choose sides. People within your community will look at you as a line of defense, even though you may have been frustrated by this discrimination in the past. You may feel like your hard-won membership to the “in” group is at risk.
This is a really crappy situation. If it happens to you, try to remember that a meaningful change in attitude is best actuated by you, an insider. You have the power to translate the accusation into terms your community can understand and gently show them steps they can take. It may seem scary, but a good community (and especially one of geeks!) should be able to rise up to well laid-out constructive criticism! And don’t forget, you’re almost certainly not the only one going through something like this. Find peers online!
GH: Lastly, here is Christina’s TedxBoston talk!