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Sharing the joy. [Mar. 31st, 2008|11:34 am]
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Some people seem to think that the only reason someone would want to encourage new people into fandom is because it will create bigger conventions, be good for fandom, etc. These things may happen, but they are only side effects of welcoming in more people. I could do a big diatribe on growth versus stagnation. I could talk about how it's really easy to say we have enough people coming to cons when you're one of the folks who already attend and you know you're welcome, but it's not relevant to why I want to see more newbies in fandom.

I want to see more new fans for their sake, not ours.

Maybe it's because I've been doing 'so it's your first con' panels for over a decade, but I've seen a hell of a lot of people at those panels who turned up knowing no-one, not a single person at the con. Some of them stick around, but many do not, and not all of those that leave can be fobbed off with the oh-so-easy 'it just wasn't for them' comment.

The whole 'most people are drawn into fandom with their friends' argument is a really easy one to make when you're surrounded by your mates, or that is indeed how you found fandom. I've talked to people who spent an hour or more outside a club or convention, absolutely terrified about going in because this was it! This was where they finally hoped to fit in, be welcomed, find people like themselves. They stayed outside because they were scared that they'd find that they wouldn't even fit in here, and if they didn't fit in here, that's it, they really were the loser, freak, and weirdo that their family and the people at school or work thought they were.

I had a cold start, knowing nobody, and it was absolutely terrifying. I spent a fair while outside Space Age Books before going in. And my very first experience of another fan was the gruff guy at the front counter being, well, gruff with me. Not unfriendly, not nasty, but my self esteme was low, and I was shy and nervous enough that I nearly left then and there. I already felt like an outsider who was at best to be tolerated. It was touch and go, and rather than walk up the stairs at the back of the shop to go to the Melbourne Science Fiction Club, I nearly ran out the front door.

If I had I would have missed out on a range of friends and experiences. Would never have done song-vids, run conventions, written fiction, gotten into 3D animation, had the friends and lovers that have enriched my life. I wouldn't have met Sharon.

So why wouldn't I, in all good conscience, want to give other people the same chances I've had?

How many people have been lost from clubs and cons over the years? Where their first experience was their last? It's not just people we lose when this happens. I want to see more new fans for our sake as well.

Every person who never attends or returns represents the loss of potential friends, lovers, con-runners, writers, editors, artists, directors... For all the good or bad they may have done our lives, the community, or the genre, they may as well have never existed.

There will always be people who are lost to us. Some people are too sensitive or scared, some bad experiences are unavoidable, and we can't be held accountable for every lost fan. I don't talk to every new person at a con, and I sure as hell don't expect others to. But the less we do to encourage these people, to try to find ways to make things that little bit more welcoming for them, and the more we sit on our collective arses saying, "they'll find us when they're ready," or "someone would bring them in anyway," the poorer our community becomes.

If you don't believe that, then think on this - If I had chosen the door instead of the stairs...

No Mitch, and no Mitch? collections.

No Pancakes at Carillion.

No Continuum conventions.

[User Picture]From: kaths
2008-03-31 05:40 am (UTC)
I was quite nervous about going to my first fan club meeting as I didn't know anyone, but by then I had got over most of my childhood shyness, so the interest in going outweighed the fear.

Paula, the president of Austrek at the time, took me under her wing when I arrived. I was actually there because I'd seen an article in The Age where she was interviewed about the club. If she hadn't I probably would have managed (and still become the secretary the following year, when it had over 1000 members!), but I could understand that a lot of people wouldn't.

I think because a lot of SF fans are a bit (or a lot) shy, they tend to cling to people they know, even in what has become a 'safe' environment, which makes it even harder for new shy people to break in than if we were more 'average' overall in terms of outgoingness.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-03-31 06:04 am (UTC)
And if you had been shyer, or hadn't been made to feel so welcome that you wanted to go back, there wouldn't have been a Frontier Magazine.

And on a personal note, I would have never had your friendship, something which means a lot to me.

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[User Picture]From: kaths
2008-03-31 09:11 am (UTC)
All true :)

Can't imagine what my life would be like now without fandom and the people within it! Even though I don't go to many of the events these days, I still see the people quite frequently.

I remember feeling a bit lost socially my first year of my Music degree, as I wasn't really interested in the whole going to the pub and getting pissed thing. The previous three years I'd been in a good social group at another uni, but that didn't really continue on.

So the timing was just right to lauch myself into a new social sphere.
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2008-03-31 06:23 am (UTC)
Well said. I try to make it to the 'first con' panels so that the first con goers at least know who I am.

And now that I think about it, maybe that should be a feature of those panels. Something like:

"Who here is an experienced con goer who wants to make the first timers welcome?"

"Where will you be, what will you be doing?"
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-03-31 07:51 am (UTC)
Actually, that's a really easy one that's not particularly forced. Asking some of the established folks who come along what panels they'll be attending, and suggesting that if people want they can look for the familiar face in the crowd to sit with at those panels. It then gives them someone to talk to about the panel afterwards.

Or something like that, anyway...
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[User Picture]From: drjon
2008-03-31 06:24 am (UTC)
People don't necessarily come to conventions because their friends go. But people sure as hell don't come back if they don't make new friends there. "Making friends" isn't something you as a Planner can reliably engineer (not unless you want to make a whole bunch of enemies), but nurturing it is.
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From: fe2h2o
2008-03-31 06:51 am (UTC)
I visited Unisfa in first year, because Emma_in_oz dragged me along.

But it was two years before I went back! And that was only because I had other reasons to be on campus, and wanted somewhere other than on my own on an oval somewhere to eat my lunch.

I can't imagine my life had I not gone back. Pretty much my entire social circle (including livelurker) arose from that.
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[User Picture]From: purrdence
2008-03-31 07:19 am (UTC)
If it weren't for Perth fandom, I wouldn't have found Drhoz.

(and I'd be a mite bit richer after every Auction if you had run out of the shop ;p )
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[User Picture]From: cheshirenoir
2008-03-31 08:55 am (UTC)
I really like some of the icebreaker ideas floating around.

One thing that comes to mind is a sort of pseudo treasurehunt with a worthwhile prize at the end (Doesn't have to be expensive: A can of softdrink and a freddo frog will get people to jump thru hoops in most cases) that encourages them to go around talking to people.

I envision a special extra badge with a spot for stickers to go on, and we give various people those stickers.

So their instructions may be:
Go to any book launch. Ask for a sticker from the author.
Ask any committee member if you can help them. Get a sticker for helping them.
Go to the gaming room. Watch a demo game. Get a sticker.

...and so on and suchforth. If we cherry pick who they have to ask, we can encourage them to go and interact with all sorts of people.

We can also encourage them to come forth "New? FREE PRIZES!"

I might just have to do this for W2:AoI
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[User Picture]From: kaths
2008-03-31 09:12 am (UTC)
Sounds great!
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[User Picture]From: crankynick
2008-03-31 10:18 am (UTC)
Some people seem to think that the only reason someone would want to encourage new people into fandom is because it will create bigger conventions, be good for fandom, etc.

So, as the "some people" who sparked this post, I should probably reply.

Let me rephrase my first question from the other thread - why the fuck should all of us care?

As you said in that original thread, Fandom is a sub-culture, like any other. Maybe, as Rob Hoges said, it's got a lower acceptance bar and a slightly different set of rules - I'd probably argue that they're different, rather than lower or higher, but it doesn't really matter.

Like any group of people in any setting, there are people who want to go out and find new people and bring them in to the broader circle, and there are people who want to hang out with their friends and do their own thing - if you're one of the former, then that's great. Every community has them, and they play a really important role.

But what do you want the rest of us to do, seriously?

This seems to be a fairly pointless discussion - those people who are going to go out of their way to make people feel welcome are going to do so, and the people who want to hang with our friends, and maybe meet other people through those extended networks will do so. No amount of online angst is going to change that.

It's probably a good idea to have an ice-breaker event or two at the beginning of the Con, for those people who are so inclined. That's a matter for the Con committee, like the rest of the program.

Mind you, if we're offering suggestions on the subject, I'd recommend that the ice-breaker games limited to those people who want to participate.

If there are, as you suggest, all of these lonely people coming to cons for their first time who are too shy to approach groups of people at the con, they are:

a) unlikely to have the confidence to approach those same groups as part as ice-breaker games, which would render the exercise a tad pointless; and

b) unlikely to react well when those groups of people (who very probably won't know what the hell is going on) look at them like they smell of dead cat.
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[User Picture]From: sonictail
2008-03-31 08:08 pm (UTC)
Cons are what you make of it. My first swancon was boring as all hell as I knew no-one and was pretty much ignored. I went to another with a friend of mine the following year and that was enjoyable, we made it fun socialised and the whole set.

But I like your take on the subject, it isn't that the convention doesn't have new people. It's fandom. Like any group we require fresh blood to keep from stagnation. New ideas and enthusiasm.

Hell, looking at JAFWA over the years, the gradual decline of people. The difficulty I had in getting content... *sighs* this ties back in with the fan guest. They're the man (or woman) you want to point at and go "you too can be involved!"

Maybe in the future we also need not only a newbie session nay I say it, friday should have a newbie track to encourage new people so they can be guaranteed of one full on "taster" day, one or two panels don't cut it, we need to give em the full chops with both barrels (if you get my jist).

But having a "Mixer" session may also be a idea. You have a set of people, each with ideas they're trying to get off the ground and have a five minute presentation to sell the idea and see if they can garner interest from outside of their own cliche. We do em in games, they work :)

There's nothing stating that we shouldn't have the same old stuff again and again that everyone loves. But i'm a big believer in making things friendly to a new audience.

And yes, I know what the webcomic panels I run are like at times -_-;
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From: haircaspian
2008-04-01 05:13 am (UTC)
Your Mixer session reminded me of a couple of panels at one of the Fandomedia conventions (yay Ju!). One was roughly: get 3 minutes to speak about your favourite book, and what's great about it. The other was roughly: get three minutes to talk about one of your obsessions. The rules weren't enforced strictly, but they were still useful. I'm not sure if everyone there was supposed to speak, but lots did, and I loved the huge amount of variety in both panels. I also found it easier to get going myself without having to push for room to speak. More panels like that would be great.

That doesn't sound quite like what you were describing. When you were talking about selling ideas they are trying to get off the ground, what sort of ideasa did you mean? Ideas for events or activities that other people could participate in at the convention, or out of the convention, that sort of thing?

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[User Picture]From: stephen_dedman
2008-04-01 03:36 am (UTC)
Most of the good stuff in my life over the past 30 years probably wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for fandom (including, quite possibly, most of those years), so I agree with your basic thesis. Unfortunately, I think that the larger a fannish gathering, the less friendly it is, and the more people are likely to escape rather than return.

The largest Swancon ever, AFAIK, was the well-publicized Swancon 5 in 1980, but if you did a survey of current Swanconians (and feel free to do so), I think you'd find relatively few for whom it was their introduction to fandom. By contrast, Swancon 6 was one of the smallest, but was the first con for a remarkably large number of our regulars. GothCon attracted a great many Gaiman and Storm Constantine fans, and I'm sure some of them returned, but a great many didn't.

Note that I'm not advocating smaller Swancons. I think that niche is being filled Perth's smaller and cheaper cons, and clubs such as UniSFA, which are excellent ways to attract fans who're interested in community rather than a particular sub-genre, author or show. Swancons should continue using guests as bait to attract more people (publicity would help!), but its sheer size and the simple fact that many of the other attendees have known each other for decades and go there largely to catch up with old friends is likely to be daunting to many.

Rather than newbies days or newbies panels, how about a newbies fan lounge? Hosted, if need be, by former Mumfan award winners?
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