Back to Attitude: A Web Page Previous Next
My name is Pam Wells, and I am an e-mail junkie.
This statement would have been unthinkable when we first started producing Attitude. Back then, I was very much against e-mail, the Internet, the Information Superhighway - call it what you will - and what I perceived as all the related techno-wank. I didn't see any reason why any of it might be useful, fun, or worth spending any of my time doing.
But then I saw a TV series called The Net, which talked about some of this stuff in non-technical terms, and piqued my curiosity far more than anyone who already had this cyberjunk in their homes had managed to do. People singing the praises of e-mail spoke in tongues I did not recognise. I didn't see how it could be a more efficient way of contacting someone than the good old telephone (and I still don't). And I didn't see the attraction of Usenet or the various bulletin boards - it sounded like talking to a bunch of uninvited geeks instead of a targeted, intimate audience. No one I was talking to then seemed interested in extrapolating beyond what they were already doing, discussing the politics of the Internet, or speculating on the future of electronic communications. These subjects were all dealt with in the TV programmes, and part of me wanted to get hooked up to this quirky network thing before it became commercialised out of all recognition. I wanted to share in the working anarchy that seemed to exist there; it sounded a lot like fandom.
So I started asking questions of fans and co-workers who had their own Internet accounts. I learned the difference between bulletin board services (like CIX and CompuServe) and Internet access providers (like Demon and Pipex). Bulletin board services provide their own conferences, which only their members can get to, and they don't all provide full Internet access (although they say they're working on it); whereas Internet access providers give full Internet access, but are not set up with a range of their own internal conferences. The more questions I asked, and the more I found out, the more it seemed feasible that I could have an Internet connection of my very own. Most of the companies I investigated made a small monthly charge for the service and a small initial fee for the connection in the first place, and some charged for software as well. Apart from this, all it would cost is the telephone time.
But the only reason I took it as far as actually getting an account of my very own was the fact that I had a really cool idea for my node name, and there was only one company who could supply it, and if I didn't book it quickly then someone else would probably get there first... When I heard that there was a service provider called Demon, I wanted desperately to be a Bitch Demon. Well, OK; I started off by thinking it would be quite a fun thing to do, no big deal; and over the weeks between thinking this and actually getting connected, I worked myself up into quite a lather about it. If I couldn't be a Bitch Demon, I didn't want to play this silly game at all. Just as well it all worked out, then. So my Internet account is really nothing more than a fashion accessory, albeit one that I happen to use rather a lot. This attitude will probably puzzle technophiles and people who buy products for what they do rather that what they look like, but I've always been a great admirer of style as well as content. I'd rather not have to settle for style or content; but, if push comes to shove, I'll normally side with style. So that's my dark and determinedly shallow secret out of the closet, then.
Another reason I wanted to go with an Internet access provider rather than a bulletin board service was that I wanted my own node on the Internet. This was so that I could have several separate addresses at that node. At the moment I have four: PWells@bitch.demon.co.uk, the default, for 'serious' contacts; Vacuous_Tart@bitch.demon.co.uk, the joke (stolen, of course!); Attitude@bitch.demon.co.uk, for the fanzine and the convention - used mostly by Mike and John when we go into our vast e-mail organising and editing frenzy; and, for the Mexicon Hat, Mex_Hat@bitch.demon.co.uk (which has yet to receive any messages...).
I've now had my e-mail account for about three months, hardly long enough to give it serious evaluation in comparison with other modes of communication and interaction, but since when did something like that stop me from sharing my observations? I've been communicating in person ever since I learned to talk (and probably even before that); on the telephone since about my teenage years; in personal letters (other than the 'thank-you' type) since about the same time; and, once I got into fandom, at conventions since 1982, in APAs since 1982, and in fanzines since 1983. I said earlier that getting an Internet connection might be comparable to hanging out in fandom: well, it is and it isn't. I thought e-mail might take over from the telephone, or perhaps letters. In practice, it falls somewhere between the two. Quicker than the mail and slower than the phone; but you don't get the instant back-and-forth dialogue that you get on the phone, and it's only quicker than the mail if the person you're e-mailing actually signs on and reads their post (and replies, of course, although that's the same with regular mail...). If you and your correspondent were to log in regularly, and if your service providers were both working well, it should be possible to exchange e-mail messages within an hour or so. In practice, though, one message each per day is the most I've ever felt the need for.
Thinking about the comparison with fandom, though, electronic communication (and I'm thinking of the newsgroups here, in particular) strikes me as being more like a convention than a fanzine or an APA. At a convention, you can only meet the people who have shown up. The same is true in a newsgroup. Conventions are biased towards people who can afford to go, and the same is true for Internet connections. The bunch of students crashing on the floor also has a parallel with those people who can access the newsgroups through their university or workplace. And the signal to noise ratio is phenomenal. Anyone reading a newsgroup can contribute anything to it, any time they want to. This can lead to conversations being dominated by people you don't particularly want to talk to, or being taken away from the subject you'd hoped they would be about. At a convention, you can easily walk away from the dull conversations, just as you can on Usenet. (There's even something called a 'killfile', which I haven't worked out how to use yet, where you can list the subjects or people's names that you never want to see again!) At a convention you can go to a private party, or meet someone in your room. I suppose this equates to private mailing lists, or e-mail correspondence.
My experience is that electronic communication compares to a convention more closely than to APAs or fanzines, because you can send your fanzine to anyone you want to, and deliberately fail to send it to some people if you so choose. With Usenet, it's the users who decide whether to read a particular newsgroup or not; so the boot is on the other foot. Electronic communication doesn't really compare to APAs either, because APAs have rules for the number of members allowed, and minimum activity requirements. But it's quite possible for people to 'lurk' in the newsgroups forever, if they want to, reading what everyone else has to say, without having to contribute anything themselves. In fact, I read an estimate the other day that about 90% of the people who use Usenet are lurkers.
I haven't mentioned the World Wide Web, because I haven't yet got a Web browser, so I have hardly seen it for myself. But that looks like being a whole different stream to swim in. Much more visual and interactive. (Much more costly, too, as I believe you need to be connected via the phone all the time you're playing there, unlike the e-communication I've already mentioned, where you read and reply to your messages offline first, and only connect to the phone line to send them and upload the next batch.) In fact, cost is becoming quite a significant factor in this new hobby of mine. Since deciding to get the Internet account in the first place, I've upgraded my computer three times. (Or, to be more accurate, John Dallman came round and did it for me.) Although the actual Internet connection is relatively cheap, you need to have good enough hardware to use it as fully as you want to.
Someone once said that Internet activity would be the death of fanzine activity. Well, now I've got my own Internet account, I think I can say bollocks to that. Fanzine activity is a different animal. Not all people on the net would want to do fanzines, in the same way as not all people who do fanzines want to hang out on the Internet. For those of us who enjoy both, we get different things out of each medium. There are many reasons why people who used to be prolific fanzine writers seem to just stop. Certainly some could be down to Internet activity (of whom I suppose Teresa Nielsen Hayden is the most famous example), but there are also reasons such as entering into a new relationship, or marriage, or changing work circumstances, or finding another interest like - oh, like scuba diving, or amateur dramatics. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, fandom is just one more thing that competes for our spare time. Even the FIAWOLers have to face this unpalatable fact.
The reason that I like contributing to Usenet groups is for the speed of comment and response, and the way that discussion grows organically. I could wish for a better signal to noise ratio, but in an environment where anyone with the right kit can contribute, it's hardly surprising that you have to wade through boring and ill-written posts far more often than you come across thoughtful and carefully- crafted ones. The reason that fanzines will always be my first love is because they are created with an eye to the longer term. People expect to put care and attention into a fanzine, and the fanzine culture favours those who write, draw and edit well. Fandom also values collections preserved from the past, and fanzines are a form of heritage that Internet postings will never be: paper is tangible where the net is nebulous. Fanzines are like a luxury cruise ship, as opposed to a long-haul tourist-class flight. A greater number of people will use the net, but there will still be enough of us who enjoy the more rarefied community of fanzines. I hope.
Between this issue of Attitude and the next, a momentous event will occur in British fandom. I am referring, of course, to The Scottish Convention. We would like to report on this in Attitude 6, but rather than asking one person to provide us with a con report, we'd like to ask everyoneto write something about Intersection for us. (Well, everyone who's there, obviously. Although I don't personally have any objection to running surreal might-have-beens from people who have better things to do with their time than huddle thousands-deep in a barn just outside Glasgow on a bank holiday weekend...) Ahem.
With a nod in passing to Dave Langford, who used an idea not entirely unlike this in Ansible after Conspiracy, we'd like you all to send us a piece of anything up to 500 words on some aspect of The Scottish Convention. Make it as personal or as general as you like; serious or silly; you name it, we'll print it. We'd like to get at least twenty - maybe even up to fifty - short reports, and join them together into a sort of literary patchwork quilt. Anyone who can let us know before the convention that they plan to send us something afterwards will be doubly blessed, but you don't have to forewarn us. Just send your reports to the editorial address by 18th September, and we'll do the rest.
We received a letter from Simon Ounsley asking us to plug Interzone for the Semi-prozine Hugo award at Intersection. Now, my immediate reaction was to bung it in the bin as blatant electioneering and not worthy of mention in the hallowed pages of Attitude . But my co-editors disagreed. After all, they told me, he's got a perfect right to make his case. Yes, I countered, but why does this have to be in our fanzine? 'Because we're influential', said Michael, giggling. And John fell over.
Well, despite holding to my former opinion, I know when I'm outvoted; so here are some of Simon, Michael and John's reasons for why you might want to vote for Interzone. Read them and weep - er, I mean, vote.
Interzone is a British magazine, and there aren't many British names on the Hugo ballot. It's quite good, too, so it even has a realistic chance of winning - it came pretty close at Conspiracy. Because Interzone has achieved a stable position in the SF/ fandom universe, it doesn't get much attention from the people who don't read it; the publicity it would get from winning a Hugo would help it to grow and attract new readers. Interzone is the main UK market for professional-quality short fiction, and it has been for the last thirteen years; many people in the field are grateful that it's given some good writers a market for their stories and a chance to develop.
And, like SF Chronicle, it's not Locus...
Back to Attitude: A Web Page Previous Next