I’ve been involved with fandom since the early 1990s. Maybe it’s because I was young, maybe my memory is faulty, but despite the Internet existing, I don’t remember it being a big part of my fandom experiences at the beginning. I recall message boards on AOL and newsgroups and even the occasional independent website, but there was no easy way to keep in touch with friends you made at conventions or online. Or perhaps I was just a shy little geek girl then, and wasn’t ready for more than the two fellow Star Trek fans I knew from school, who claimed ignorance when I tried to talk to them there.
Regardless of the reason, the internet wasn’t a particularly important part the young me’s fandom experiences. But it does make it rather simple to measure my online fandom experiences in stages.
- AOL/newsgroups. I was young, I don’t remember them clearly, but they were there. As far as I know, I’m not in touch with anyone I met during that time, but the world is small and fandom is smaller. I’ll probably never know though.
- Livejournal. I was in college, it was just becoming popular. It definitely gave me the opportunity to make new fandom friends, but it also forced me to confront both the pros and cons of internet anonymity. When things got ugly, I had no one to turn to for back up and support. The few people I’m in contact with from livejournal are people who I first met off of it; anyone else remains an internet based sort-of-friendship.
- Facebook. Also created while I was in college, it did exactly the opposite of its purpose. I was terrified of people I knew in real life finding out about my interest in fandom, so I hid it away. People loved facebook; I remember not understanding the addiction. I wanted to fit in, and despite my desperate efforts, I failed miserably.
- Twitter. And then there was twitter. To this day, I don’t know why twitter did what nothing else online had successfully managed before that. I talk to people I know in real life, as well as people I don’t. I’ve met many of the people I follow and who follow me. Some I met in real life prior to meeting them on twitter, some I met on twitter first. What makes twitter different is that it doesn’t really matter. People seem to like the me they talk to in the real world just as much as the me they know online. And for the first time in my life, I think the two are the same person. I’m not putting on a persona when I talk to people on the internet anymore. What you see is what you get. Geeky, rambling, stressed, random, and so happy to have people who get it now.
- Facebook (redux). After the absolute misery that facebook put me through in college, I deleted my account and essentially cut off my contact to all of those people. At one of the conventions I was at, someone I met, and have a huge amount of respect for, asked me to find him on facebook. I had to admit that I didn’t have an account anymore. That lasted until I got home, when I created a new account, and immediately got discovered by my fandom friends. And that was cool. But better still is what’s happened more recently. Remember all those people in college that I hid my geekiness from? I’ve started to get back in touch with them, with no filter between their “normal” world and my fannish one. I won’t apologise for or hide who I am anymore.
So, yeah, the internet. It can give and take away so easily. But in my case, it’s finally given back a hell of a lot more than it’s taken. I spent ages jealous of all the people who got to meet their online friends in real life. They all seemed to get along amazingly and go visit each other and have something special. I never had that. I do now.
Without the freedom that the internet has finally given me, I wouldn’t have gone to the places I’ve gone, met the people I’ve met, or been given the opportunities I’ve been given. So thanks, internet. You’ve been an harsh mistress at times, but it’s finally payed off.