Focus on Fandom
Strange New Worlds Issue 9 - Jun/Jul 1993
A Computer Rookie becomes ensnared in The Net
by Karen Yost
What? Huh? That was my first impression when introduced to the above gobbledy-gook and
the strange new world of Internet. Happily, once I jumped into the "Net" I
discovered within its wealth of information a whole world of fellow science fiction
SF-LOVERS@RUTGERS.EDU is simply an electronic mail (or E-mail) address
where science fiction fans can communicate with each other. This communication takes place
via a discussion list. The e-mail address above indicates that SF-LOVERS is
the name of the discussion list; RUTGERS is the location of the originator of the
discussion list; and EDU is the trailing domain -- it indicates the type of
organization where the computer is located. In this case, the SF-LOVERS discussion list
originates from Rutgers University, an educational institution.
SF-LOVERS is available through Internet (or The Net), a world-wide web of
thousands of computer networks that reaches millions of people. The Nets original
purpose was to give scientists and other researchers a fast and efficient communication
tool. The Net spans over forty-five countries on all seven continents. Over 1.7 million
computers are now directly linked to the Net.
This powerful research tool for scientists also became a favored mode of communication
for people and groups that have common interests. Discussion lists on the Net and other
computer networks range from doctors working toward a cure for AIDS (AIDSNEWS) to fans interested in the supernatural (VAMPYRES). No single network owns the Net; to
get connected, all you need is a personal computer and a modem.
My boss (bless his little heart) showed me how to subscribe to discussion lists a few
weeks ago. The day after I signed up for SF-LOVERS, I received E-mail on my work computer.
So far I have read about a small controversy involving the Hugo nomination ballots,
laments concerning the cancellation of Quantum Leap, and fan comments about the
movie Jurassic Park. There was even a posting from Majel Barrett asking for fan
support for the politically endangered Space Station.
SF-LOVERS is a large discussion list. Because science fiction encompasses so many
different mediums, this discussion list has separate e-mail addresses for science fiction
conventions, movies, TV, writers, and a miscellaneous address for anything else you might
want to discuss. Messages to the list are batched and broadcast periodically by the owner
or moderator of the list.
After signing up for two discussion lists so far, I have learned a few things. First, I
know I am not a chiphead (an advanced Net user). Second, I do not have the
time to TITANIC (an acronym for Take the Initiative To Accurately
Navigate the Internet Carefully). Third, my limited computer
knowledge often results in my computer barfing (failing/malfunctioning).
Last, this symbol,
if one of a group of keystroke combinations called smilies. It denotes
happiness, or agreement with the sentiments of a message.
Conversely, this symbol,
means the sender of the message is sad.
On SF-LOVERS and other discussion lists, a subscriber can send mail to the entire list
or respond to an individual user. You must decide if your comments are of interest to the
list or just to one person. The most important thing to remember is do NOT post anything
that you would not want your mother to see or that you would be embarrassed to have appear
in the newspaper!
The net is an open and sharing network and is remarkably free of censorship. Only the
individual owners and moderators of the discussion lists govern what can and cannot be
said. The trade-off for this freedom, however, is lack of security. Anyone can subscribe
to a discussion list and your individual E-mail address is easily accessible. So you can
never know just how many people will read your comments and if those comments will end up
When you subscribe to a discussion list, you usually receive a welcome message that
explains the purpose of the list and certain rules the owner/moderator would like you to
follow. One rule or issue I keep running across concerns spelling. When you respond to an
individual user, it is probably less damaging and embarrassing when you misspell a word or
two. If you send to the entire list, do not be surprised if there is a subscriber who is a
college English professor just waiting to point out any spelling or grammatical errors.
At work I often ask my friend Jennifer for spelling assistance. If you do not have a
Jennifer handy, keep a dictionary close by when sending mail.
If you are criticized via a discussion list for spelling errors or one of your
comments, you have just become a flaming victim. Flaming occurs when
generally polite people use a discussion list to insult other users, groups, or even whole
countries. I have not yet seen any flaming on SF-LOVERS, though the discussions on whether
Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton is anti-tech have become quite lively. The
owner/moderator of a list can step in and refuse to post any further attacks, thus
stamping out the flames.
Another common rule that is up to the moderators discretion is the issue of
advertising. Since the Net has the potential of reaching millions of people and discussion
lists cater to a select group of users, the Net is an advertisers dream. However,
most discussion lists will not allow any advertising. The concern is that E-mail can
easily turn into E-commercials. As a result, I cannot sing the praises of Strange New
Worlds on SF-LOVERS.
About 80% of the countrys colleges have access to the Internet. If you are
affiliated with a university, a phone call to the computer services help desk will get you
started. Military installations, government offices, and some large companies like Union
Carbide also have ready access to the Net.
But the true appeal of the Net is that with only a personal computer and a modem you,
too, can have access to the Net and all that it offers. All you need to do is dial into a
computer that is on the Internet. Because there is no one "master computer" that
everyone dials into, you may end up using a university, government office, or even your
public librarys computer.
Tracy Laquay & Jeanne C. Ryer, The Internet Companion,
List of Lists Update, Internet/Bitnet (28 January 1992).
Dana Noonan, A Guide to Internet/Bitnet, Metronet (1992).
Techno-Terms Primer, Library Instruction Round Table (1993).
The Times-Picayune, 23 May 1993, pg. A-12.
Focus on Fandom articles
by Karen Ann Yost:
Karen Ann Yost wrote a regular column about media fandom in Strange New Worlds from
1992 through 1994. Ms. Yost has been active in fandom for decades and has been a frequent
panelist at MediaWest and Vidcon.