Fan Mail (2010 Geekstream Remix)

March 6th, 2010

After the Ignite Detroit event, I was talking with another Andrew, who had just given a presentation about ham (amateur) radio. I noted that radio enthusiasts have for years been networking, seeking, and communicating in ways that have now become mainstream. Living in the Information Age, we have to acknowledge that the geeks got here first. In the 1980s, fans of Star Trek and Doctor Who gathered for conventions to discuss their favorite TV shows. Today, people like to discuss their favorite shows, network with other fans and provide an atmosphere of feedback. I might guess that if we didn’t have Star Trek conventions decades ago, we wouldn’t have American Idol today. (If you’re not a fan of American Idol, don’t take that as an insult.) I think of it as the geekstream, the culture where niche is normal, where everyone can participate in enthusiastic fandom.

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I think back to 1996, when I did most of my Internet searching from a computer lab on campus. I’ve always had a niche taste in music, and my very favorite at the time was singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh. One day in the computer lab, I checked the message board and saw a message from Kristin’s husband that their son had just been born. I started to dash off a note, “Congratulations!” when a classmate of mine came by and asked what I was writing.

When I explained, he seemed amused. “So, it’s fan mail?”

I was a bit surprised by the choice of words. It wasn’t the type of fawning letter I think of as fan mail, wasn’t telling her I was her number one fan, wasn’t promising her I’d name my firstborn after her, wasn’t begging for a signed photo. In fact, the note had little to do with that. It said exactly what I’d say to a cousin or neighbor who had a baby.

I still post congratulations and short greetings to celebrities, but now it’s mostly on Twitter. Some might argue that this means I’m a little shallow and fame-obsessed. But I think it shows the opposite. It shows I treat the famous people in my sphere with the same kind of consideration I’d use for anyone else in my sphere. I think starstruck silence would demonstrate more fame-obsession, or if I spent weeks composing a careful letter that gushes out all my adoration for them.

With Twitter, it’s just as easy to reply to celebrities as it is not to reply. It only takes a moment to type, “@ryanseacrest Great job on last night’s American Idol! (What’s up with Danny Gokey?)” For me, it’s acknowledging that the media is part of my life, and I can thank these people for being a good part of my life. It also shows that there’s nothing unspecial about me that prevents me from saying hi.

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