Monday, October 8, 2007

Knowledge laborers, collaboration, PostSecret

I agree with a lot of the points Ann made in her post ("Fan fiction author as knowledge laborer"). I found myself also wondering, as Coppa discussed the explosion of fandom culture and its incorporation of comics, manga/anime/yaoi, celebrity and music fandom, whether the world of fandom had turned into Ang's organized chaos. With so many groups contributing to and expanding the subculture, and indeed bringing much of the culture into the mainstream (particularly, as Coppa notes, in music and celebrity fandoms), the influx of fannish "information" might make the subculture seem chaotic and incoherent, but it is, as Ang suggests, in this chaos that fandom finds its order.

Fans from across the globe can now find companionship, friendship, and community among disparate, previously disconnected individuals via the Time and Distance Disintegrator, the Internet. Instantaneous communication afforded by the Internet allows for the kind of collaboration Terranova references in Barbrook's assertion that "Unrestricted by physical distance, [users] collaborate with each other without the direct mediation of money and politics. ...Network communities are instead formed through the mutual obligations created by gifts of time and ideas" (101). Terranova goes on to discuss the emergence of "free labor" among the early Internet Pioneers; labor "willingly conceded in exchange for the pleasures of communication" (Terranova 112). Ann's point about sci-fi fanfic writers as knowledge labors seems particularly driven home by this relationship between labor and communication; science fiction fans write stories "in exchange for the pleasures of communication"--or communion--and for little else.

One very fitting example of collaborative community-making is the website PostSecret. Terranova heralds the "best website" as "a space that is not only accessed, but somewhow built by its users" (113). PostSecret is an "ongoing community art project" (Wikipedia), started in 2005 by Frank Warren and featuring weekly updates of roughly 20 new submissions. Users send in their secrets, written or decorated or in some other way conveyed on the back side of a regular postcard, which Frank sifts through to select the week's postings. "The PostSecret website is the largest advertisement-free Blog on the web", says the tag at the bottom of the PostSecret website, followed by a guest counter reading "100,363,430" (, accessed 8 October 2007). It is hosted on a free blogging framework provided by Google (the same, in fact, currently hosting this blog), and contributors receive no more compensation for their labor than the knowledge that someday, maybe, their secret will be posted.

Frank periodically posts email responses to individual secrets, many of which express feelings of camaraderie or encouragement to the poster, contributing to the sense of community engendered by the site. Many of those who have contributed feel part of the community even if a secret has never been posted; this seems to me the ultimate expression of an imagined community, in which not only will the members never meet, but that's the whole point. If we knew who were reading our secrets, or who were writing them, the effect would be lost.

No comments: