Internet Fans Controversy Du Jour (Sandy Herrold)

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Title: Internet Fans Controversy Du Jour
Creator: Sandy Herrold
Date(s): 1997
Fandom: slash fandom, mailing list
Topic: net fans vs. print fans
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By 1997, the gap between Internet fans (or net fans - fans whose main interactions were online) and print fans (fans who interacted with one another physically or through mail or phone) had narrowed. Still, the tensions between the two groups ran high.

In 1997, Sandy Herrold posted the following overview of the 'state of net vs. print fans' to the Virgule-L mailing list. It is reposted here with permission.
"The Internet as almost as big a conversational topic this year as Methos; Slash On The Net; net fic, (vs. print fic), and are *they* different from us...

...and after a while I realized that this was different from last years Internet conversations, and last year'd been different from the one before that. So, here's my take on the last 4 years: others that have attended cons each year since 1993, *please* feel free to correct or flesh out (or flatly contradict) my recollections.

This list started in 1993 with just 7 of us, and for the first couple of years after it got started, people on the list were Internet evangelists at cons.

At Escapade & Zcon & MediaWestCon, 94, we were 'The Connected' and we continually tried to convince The Unconnected to buy a computer or add a modem. The Unconnected pushed back, mostly saying, 'I'm not convinced there is enough out there to make the investment worth while--prove it to me, and I'll join you."

By 1995, we were less interested in recruiting, and more interested in each other. We eagerly attended the 'Internet' panels, and had parties at cons so that we could put faces to email addresses. The slash mailing lists (there were some small ones on AOL, Genie and others, plus the first show based slashlists) came up in panels all the time, and we just expected everyone there to know what we were talking about. More and more people were talking about getting online, soliciting information and help from the connected. Virgule-L doubles in size. Jokes like The Wave Theory buttons are prominent at cons, and we don't go out of our way to explain them to The Unconnected.

Escapade 1996, The Unconnected fought back. People without access accused the ones with access of *excluding* them, and they made it sound personal. Biting comments overtly touching on classism in fandom (rich fans can afford computers, poor fans can't, so now poor fans will be cut off from all of the stuff that suddenly is available only online). Some of the Connected felt attacked, and were fairly defensive in return. Comments about how the Connected were causing 'The DEATH of Apas and Letterzines' were common throughout the con. And, the first grumblings about 'netfic' began to be heard.

Escapade 1997, the unconnected were pretty quiet--I only heard a couple of people mention the unconnected/connect split at all. The New battle appeared to be between "Printfans With Modems"(I.e., most of the women on this list) vs."Netfans": Stuff like, "They don't care about our traditions", "All net writing is barely readable crap"; "if most of a show's fandom is online (like SAAB and Voyager, to name a couple), it proves that the show is crap and They're just writing porn." (And the classic, "print fans don't have beta readers; they have FRIENDS")

Someone said, 'Virgule is mostly printfans with modems; Slashpoint is more netfans.' And a little discussion followed about whether that is such a bad thing...Virgule has never been explicitly mentioned over on Slashpoint, or most of the big show-specific slash lists.

One of the cool things about this years's Escapade was there were real netfans at their first con -- Kronette, the creator of slash-sis; Brenda Antrim, a noted net writer, and others. Having an actual "Netfan" in the room while people were trying to make sweeping statements about "their kind" really helped move the conversation away from polarizing crap, and on to some wonderful conversations.

Who knows what the controversy will be next year? Perhaps between the "Web Slash advertizers", and the "Use the Web to get in touch with each other, but advertising to the net world is bad." Or some new thing we can't even think of yet.

All of the conversations did lead me to wonder a certain amount about the future of Virgule-l. A year and a half ago, I would have said we were a fairly representative cross-section of online fandom; we certainly were the single biggest fan gathering online. Now, to my surprise, Virgule-l is seen as a good starter list for 'old fans that are new online'. Both newer fans, and more experienced 'net' fans, are more likely to go to other places.

Is this bad? Do we have any interest in (as much as possible) reflecting the whole online fan community? We've never advertized online (and not much offline, after the 1st year), so our growth tends to be from friends of people already on the list, who tend to be the same sort--longer term print fans with modems.... (Which shows in all sorts of ways; some overreactions about flaming, which longterm net people tend to be more used to; fairly rare use of acronyms, which longterm net people tend to use to the point of insanity; lots of people not knowing how to download formatted text--or not even knowing if their mailer is capable of it...).

In a later version of the essay published in the 1997 Escapade post-convention report, Sandy concluded with:

"I think the one thing that will stay the same for the next couple of years is the conflict; slash fandom has grown so much and spread so far that some splintering must occur. The Internet is one thing people can easily point to and say "There! That’s the culprit!" even as more and more of us sign on every day. Like every other fannish conflict since the first two people sat down and decided to produce a slash zine, eventually we’ll probably all look back at this and laugh … "