the changing face of internet communication

There used to be an unspoken code of Internet etiquette to which I strictly adhered. You couldn’t just start talking to someone out if the blue, as if you were old friends, as if they had every reason to care what you said. You had to build that up.

Say there was a writer of fanfic for a certain fandom whose work out very much admired and whose praise or at least perusal, perhaps, you desired. You read all her work and perhaps, on her livejournal (because we all had them back then, and had had to work for them, since in a backhanded slap to the open source nature of the Internet to come, it was invite-only), you left a comment on a relevant (but recent) post expressing anticipation of the next segment of her fic. In the meantime you broadened your sphere of familiarity so you knew who she meant when she praised someone else’s work, and you tried—incredibly hard—to come up with witty rejoinders and sage, squeeful observations of fandom news. An adorable press junket clip, a fantabulous group photo in a particular film magazine that had formerly missed the roving eye of fandom, whispered news of conversations slipped into the DVD commentary. Once you were a known (but not, on pain of shunning, too-constant) presence, then maybe you’d get these writers responding to posts of your own. And then either they or their friends (and thus eventually them too) would read your work and reward your months of patience and restraint with the interaction you sought.

Note that these interactions were with fellow fandom members—NOT the objects of fandom itself. If actors had blogs no one knew about them, and even if somehow you did, you said not a word to them, for many reasons—not to embarrass yourself, or them, or to bring unwanted attention to a slice of fandom common sense says would be disturbing, as he object of fandom, to discover. (I’m looking at you, Theban Band.) If a fan violated these precepts, one distanced oneself from her (if there were gay men amongst us, I was woefully unaware). Immediately. The last thing you wanted to be was the presumptuous, unctuous camp follower of fame.

That’s totally different now, with Facebook and Twitter and the propinquity of personal blogs, and I realized this the other day as I responded to one of the masterful (I am told, for the medium—I’m relatively new) tweets by Joyce Carol Oates. I have become what would have been considered, in those early days of fandom as delivered by the newly minted Web 2.0, the bottom of the barrel. I respond directly to persona of import with no hope of a response. I do this my even hoping for a response—usually just out of the desire to deliver useful information, like that Nathan Fillion really doesn’t want to share his MMO character’s name if he wants to enjoy himself at all. Who am I to tell him his? No one! But I bother to say it anyway, with little invested in it other than “man, if I were to log into a new game and everyone was trying to mess with me that would be a pain.” That kind of casual, oh-yeah-you-might-want-to-know statement is usually—was always, in the past—reserved for those who knew you. In a way it’s much more intimate than the kind of maniacal fannish devotion of the past, because you’re not even simperingly asking for an autograph or a picture or something. You’re just saying “Hey, dude. Don’t wreck that game for yourself.” As if you are a known entity whose advice is to be taken. Appreciated, even.

The tightly-controlled fan self of the past would loathe my present behavior. Today, though, I find it difficult to care. Everyone’s doing it. And everyone appears to understand that it means nothing. I can’t lay claim to any big-time fandoms anymore, but I rather doubt people get palpitations if the star of their chosen show or movie retweets something nice they said about the show. It’s just a retweet. It’s impersonal. 

This is no news, I know. Everyone’s been bitching about the impersonal turn communication has taken over the last decade, ever since it started. As usual, I am late to the party, in this case re: Twitter. But I do have that intensely fandom-focused past that makes the what-would-have-been-thought-of-as-audacity of today’s twitter followers of Nathan Fillion, Stana Kanic, Ian McKellan, and whoever else slightly…scandalous. It’s like we were the Victorians of fandom, even though we were spending large chunks of our time describing sex romps between people in curly wigs and gluey hobbit feet.

We may have invented The Theban Band, but dammit, we had standards.

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