The Fellowship of Fandom

Fellowship (noun): 1. the condition or relation of being a fellow: the fellowship of humankind; 2. friendly relationship; companionship: the fellowship of father and son; 3. community of interest, feeling, etc; 4. communion, as between members of the same church; 5. friendliness.

One of the many other hats I wear in STARFLEET is Region 7 Recruiting Staffer. I’m trying to help revamp our PR material, and the mission statement I’ve crafted for the department is “Selling a Social Experience”.

One definition of social experience can be seen above: a community of interest. As members of a fandom, we are members of a community of interest. Actually, we’re members of one large community with lots of small subcultures… the larger world of science fiction/fantasy fandom breaks down into Trekkies, Star Wars fans, Harry Potter fans, Steampunkers, etc.

Fellowship can also mean a communion. I don’t interpret this to mean “partaking of a sacred meal in a religious context”, such as celebrating the Eucharist in a Christian church. Rather, I look at the broader meaning of belonging to a supportive community of like mind.

We bring a lot of different religions to our greater fandom community, a lot of different political opinions, and a lot of different cultures. But we can find a true communition of ideas with each other. Science fiction and fantasy are created around a hope that better worlds can be built. Even in the most dystopian, dark work, a hero (or band of heros) triumphs in some small way against the darkness.

How do we find fellowship in our fandom? We could start with that last definition: friendliness. Working a recruiting table definitely requires you to reach out and be friendly to random people. Though as we’ve defined above, they’re not truly random folks. They’re members of the fellowship of fandom. When I talk to them at the table, I’m not just trying to get them to join STARFLEET. I’m trying to make new connections.

We create fellowship in fandom by being friendly. By listening. By helping our our fellow fans in their time of need. By forging new connections with new friends. In participating in our chosen corners of fandom, we have communion with each other, in the common ground of the fandom.

Through that common ground, we can cross boundaries to find better understanding. I’ve met some very unique folks through fandom, from many countries, many political stances, many cultures. Many faiths. Through being willing to create fellowship, I’ve been able to bring my own unique faith, energy, and ideals to the fandom community.

Take a moment now, to think about what you bring to the fellowship of fandom. How can you forge new connections? What uniqueness do you bring to our collective diversity?

Be Excellent to Each Other

“Be excellent to each other.” — Abraham Lincoln (in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure)

If you’re like me, and you’ve been online since the stone-age early-90s days of AOL dialup, you’ve seen more than your share of flame wars. I’m pretty sure the first flame war erupted as soon as the second person logged on to the ARPANET.

“Back in the day”, we all hid behind screen names all the time. Odds were good you actually knew very few people online in real-life (that is to say, your local friends, family, co-workers, etc). I think when I started using AOL, I knew my best friend, her mom, and her aunt.

In the early 90s, the internet was something of an entertainment novelty. In 2013, it is an essential part of daily life. And for the most part, we no longer hide behind screen names, doing much of our online interacting via email and Facebook.

So I find it striking that, for many of us, it seems like people were nicer back when we didn’t know each other. Today’s Facebook is often a minefield of snark, and on Facebook, you DO know who many of these people actually are, and you DO interact with many of them in offline life.

I’m not a fan of this, and I’m far from the first person to notice. One of my local radio stations ran an informal listener survey a few months ago asking people if they thought their Facebook friends were getting nastier, based on a news article one of the hosts had read.

No one’s really sure why, and I’m certainly no expert, but I’ll put forth a theory. I think people seem nastier because it’s becoming increasingly easier to say whatever you want to say whenever you want to say it, and this is causing social filters to break down.

With social media, you can do this in one or two mouse clicks, once you log in to the service. Email is almost as quick, now that many of us have smartphones with the internet in our purses and pockets. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And it’s all well and good telling Aunt Betty to “lighten up” because she didn’t like that crude joke you posted to your Timeline, but why would you friend her on Facebook if you didn’t care what she thought/felt?

“Back in the day”, when we relied on forums or blogs, when we didn’t have the internet at our fingertips 24/7, you had to actually go find a computer first, which all but eliminated the kind of “shoot from the hip” blasting you see on Facebook. And since everyone else had to go find a computer first, your forum or blog posts wouldn’t be read in near real-time by others.

No, that didn’t mean we never had flame wars. Far from it! But the time lags between users logging in and looking at the blog/forum/whatever did have an effect of dulling much of the immediacy of online arguments we see on social media today. And because people had to choose to follow a blog/forum/whatever, you really didn’t have this phenomena of people you don’t even know swooping in to argue with you because they are a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.

Beyond that, the immediacy of social media gives it a “let it all hang out” rawness that you rarely saw with blogs, unless someone practically lived on Live Journal. Do we really need to put every stream-of-consciousness blip out there for the whole world to see?

Do we really need to take our friends to task for not wanting to listen to every stream-of-consciousness blip we put out there? Just because you can be nasty and still stay within the Facebook Terms of Service doesn’t mean you should. Those are real people out there. Many of whom you actually see offline.

Why does having a screen between you suddenly remove social convention? Why would you ever say things to someone (or in a certain way to someone) on Facebook or email that you would never use to their face? Words CAN and DO cause real damage. The sticky issue of cyberbullying aside, do you really want to lose a good friend because you called them names on Facebook? Do you really think they shouldn’t pay attention to whatever you do because it was online?

Be excellent to one another. Try to create dialogue instead of pithy snark. Remember why these people are your friends, and treat them the way you would like to be treated. Or you just may find yourself with no one to talk to at all.