Monday 23 January 2017

Cheap Truth and Networking for Introverts/Misanthropes

In the early 80s Bruce Sterling edited a fanzine he called Cheap Truth. It was distributed on single sheets of paper you were supposed to photocopy and pass around yourself (Sterling was an early pioneer of the Creative Commons, essentially). You can read all of the issues of it online. Even were it not for the fact that the writing is great (read the obituary for Theodore Sturgeon by Brian Aldiss if you don't believe me), it's also worth it for the reviews. My "to read" shelf has expanded considerably since I discovered it.

What a strange world 1980 was when viewed backwards through the wrong end of binoculars. A lot's happened in 37 years. It's trite to point to the existence of the internet but it's worth considering that it really wasn't that long ago that somebody like me would not have had a creative outlet anything like this blog. I could have written for magazines and whatnot, of course, but if I had wanted creative control over what I was writing my only option would have been the Sterling route. Printing out fanzines (probably typewritten) and, I dunno, leaving them at the local bookshop, gaming shop and library?

But Cheap Truth probably succeeded because, let's face it, Bruce Sterling wasn't just printing it out and leaving it at his local bookshop. He was in "the scene", at conventions, hanging out with famous or soon-to-be-famous writers. I'm not sure, but I have always had the impression that the 'zine was a kind of in-joke; although Sterling edited it pseudonymously everybody who was anybody in SF and fantasy at the time knew it was him. They read it and distributed (plenty of them also probably also wrote for it) and gradually "real" magazines got to know about it too (it's said that Sterling stopped producing it once it got a mention in Rolling Stone, back when Rolling Stone was actually important).

At the same time, while Bruce Sterling isn't exactly Errol Flynn, he's clearly got the necessary charisma and get-up-and-go you need to be the locus of a "movement" of some kind. A mixture of ideologue, tub-thumper, leader and persuader. The kind of person who has the force of personality to bring others together and get them working.

In other words, it's worth pausing to consider what a boon the internet has been for people who don't live in New York or London and don't move in certain circles and/or who are introverted or for other reasons are terrible at face-to-face networking. For what it's worth I don't really classify myself as an introvert or an extrovert, but probably lean somewhat towards the extrovert side of the scale; it's something that depends a lot on my mood. I'm not sure what my internet persona is like but in real life I'm confident with other people and get energized by their company, but I am also perfectly happy when by myself. I'm not terrible at networking. At the same time, though, nor am I Bruce Sterling. I don't have either the time or the inclination or the opportunity to go to SF conventions and become known. If it wasn't for the internet nobody except my gaming group would know or give a fuck about Yoon-Suin.

What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts. As time goes on I increasingly wonder whether the internet is really a Good Thing for all sorts of reasons, but it's worth being thankful that people who aren't like Bruce Sterling get the chance to actually do things too now.

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