Stargazers in Cyberspace

Confessions of an On-Line Fan Club Junkie

           As for whether an Internet fan club can create any sort of real community, there's something infinitely more personal and empowering about exchanging facts and opinions with other people than simply reading the output of the music press. And after a few weeks on the list, members get to know each others' styles and attitudes, form individual dialogues, and help each other out with concert tickets and tapes. Plenty of people on the lists become friends with each other off-line, too. So online fan clubs certainly bring people together who might otherwise have never met. Says Craig Stockinger, a Luckytown subscriber in Mequon, Wisconsin, "There's a kind of common bond that links us together which makes people feel more at ease with each other and, in turn, more generous and trusting."

           In rare cases, the lists actually act as a space for peer counseling; I logged off the Hole list after a few weeks when I began to feel like I was invading a safe place for a tight-knit group of teenage girls to explore and share the things that hurt them, frightened them, made them angry. I was fascinated, to be sure, and even began to feel emotionally attached to some of the people on the list, but couldn't help but feel like a wiretapper, at times.

           Still, there's something about the very nature of the forum that discourages real contact and communication. Except for rare cases--the Hole list among them--the community is illusory and transitory, vanishing as soon as you log out without truly knowing anyone any better than you did when you logged on. And for every person who feels as Stockinger does, there's another who finds that they really have nothing in common with their cyberpals when they meet in person.

           Yet the attraction remains undeniable for many of us, in part for the simple technological wonder of it all. Which is why I've found myself leaving for work at 6:15 a.m. in order to find out whether Springsteen played "State Trooper" last night in Texas on my office computer, and to hear what my fellow fans thought of the show. As Joel Abbott, who administers Wire and the Jimi Hendrix list, Hey Joe, from an e-mail server at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, says: "Could you imagine trying to do a conference call with 800-plus people?" CP



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