The internet is arguably one of the most valuable resources of the modern era. Nearly anything you can dream of – information, content, music, books, maps, videos – is at your fingertips instantaneously. In addition to providing an endless supply of information, the internet has graced us with the potential for endless communication and connection to our friends, families, and even strangers. It allows people the opportunity to meet and get to know each other and connect with people that share their interests, their passions.
These digital communities allow individuals to come together and feel supported, and they are becoming true forces of culture.
What strikes a chord with many is that there is an opportunity to find common ground with strangers about interests that you don’t necessarily have in common with a “real life” support system. Whether people aren’t interested, think that your interest is weird, or they just don’t get it, these online communities provide the support that you often can’t find anywhere else.
Like other social support systems, people interact with each other by reacting to new content related to their interest, they discuss problems they’re facing in real life, they talk about fan theories, they debate politics and social issues, and so much more. They interact the same ways that face-to-face relationships and support systems do, just without the in-person interaction.
What interests me most is the ways that fandoms and online communities have shifted pop culture and society. Having grown up in the age of the internet and as a person on the cusp between being a Millennial or Gen Z, I’ve watched the internet shift from having only dial-up to having a computer in my pocket at all times. The formation of fandoms and interest-based communities is not new, but their digital presence makes them accessible in ways they’ve never been before.
Because fandoms and communities can now be accessible to anyone with an internet connection, massive amounts of people can participate. In recent years, celebrities and fans on social media have been able to bring back canceled TV shows they avidly followed, and digital social movements have changed national policy and gained momentum. Conversations about diversity, inclusion, and equity have been brought to the nation’s attention. And let us not forget the moments in which the nation stops to consume the content that pop culture adores.
The collective effervescence felt when the final season premiere of Game of Thrones aired was unlike any other television premiere I’ve ever experienced. The anticipation and suspense built around Marvel’s latest Avengers films have created massive amounts of engagement on social media and have started trends about avoiding plot spoilers. The power of these fandoms is immense and cannot be taken for granted.
That being said, fandoms and this kind of excitement existed before the internet. However, the internet amplifies it, to the nth degree.
There is a belief among pop culture experts and historians that we are presently in the golden age of television, but I would argue that we are in the golden age of content and culture. Without the internet’s vast reach and ability to connect people, these fandoms, connections, support systems, and relationships may not exist. I for one know my life would be vastly different had I not grown up watching the internet change and evolve. I bore witness to a global cultural and societal shift, how could that not affect my worldview and who I am today?
There seems to be a popular opinion today that the internet is a hellish landscape of negativity and despair, but I don’t see that. To me, the internet is a thing of possibility, of potential. There is an infinite possibility for growth, education, and connection, and I don’t take that for granted.