(If you want to link to these and keep the cut tags intact for people, link to my front page or link to this archive page
For the Meta Month of March thing (month_of_meta
), someone asked for "Tales of fandom past. Anyone who was around in the mailing-list era or before...I want to hear How Things Were Different Back In The Day."
Which made me feel both really old and like a raw newbie again (there were so many days before The Day! so many people have been around so very much longer than me!). But I also thought to myself, well, this is something I can do. I was there, I really enjoyed it very much, and it won't be that hard. It'll be a little bit long maybe, but not too bad.
Then I started writing. I wasn't entirely sure where to start it, or what angle to approach it from, so I had five or six different starts written out. And then I just started writing, and writing, and writing.
Yeah, this got ridiculously long, even for me, so I'm breaking it out into three posts.Disclaimer
First the disclaimers and caveats: This is what my experience of mailing-list-based fandom 10-18 years ago (oh dear god) was like, to the best of my recollection. Other people had different experiences, sometimes hugely different, depending on when they came into fandom, what fandom was their gateway, whether they were monofannish or not, whether they were into slash or not, whether they lurked or were active, etc. The only thing that would be mostly the same for everyone is that posts were made, distributed, and read via email.
I had written up a giant step-by-step explanation of my fannish background for context, but it boils down to this: I started out in SF fandom in 1980, found a few slash zines in a dealer's room around 1985, and then totally failed to connect further with media and especially slash fandom until around 1994, when I got on the internet through work and discovered Forever Knight mailing lists. I knew about newsgroups but for some reason they intimidated me, and I stuck to lists; looking back, I regret that, as the newsgroups were hugely active and I probably would have had a lot of fun if I could have adapted to the way they worked.
My personal experience is with Western, tv-based fandoms that revolved around discussion of the source, producing fanworks (which wasn't a word yet - we wrote fanfic, drew art, made vids, tribbed to or edited or published or agented zines), consuming fanworks (likewise), and to some degree attending (or putting on) cons. If you came in through SF fandom, you might say all of that, including the participation in lists/newsgroups/cons/APAs/zines, was your fanac
, a term that I wish had gained as much traction as fanworks, because it doesn't narrow down the field of "people who actively create fandom" to people with creative urges.
As time went on I slid more and more toward slash-based fandom, but with the same emphasis as before on discussion, fanworks, and interaction.
Okay, so, with all of that out of the way, here's my take on what mailing-list fandom was like, from about 1994 to the early/mid-2000s.( The medium defined the message )( Signal-to-noise: bandwidth and storage )( Size limits: text, images, video, music )( Things were pricy )
Looking back on it, it all looks sort of wretched, no? Slow, creaky, limited, expensive.
But at the time, it was amazing. $3,000 for a 4 G system sounds like a lot of money 15 years later -- but 10 years earlier, I'd've paid $3k just for a 15 MB hard drive and installation kit, plus another $2k if I wanted a second unit
. My computer had a graphical user interface! It had a web browser! (I didn't have one at work; we didn't need them. We had email, and if you knew enough to ask, you could get a newsreader, too. What else could you possibly need?)It had an internal modem
We were living the good life.( ascii art )part 2part 3