Online Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic affects all of us. Physical distancing guidelines mean we stay at home except for runs to the grocery and drug store. Physical distancing doesn’t necessarily mean social distancing, however. Not completely.

Software such as Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and others, allow you to interact visually with people from, well, anywhere. Emails, messaging apps, and social media such as Facebook and Instagram also allow us to keep in touch.

It’s not the same, though, is it? Of course, it can’t be, not even if we had Star Trek-like holographic communicators. It’s no substitute for being in the same space with someone. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and we’re lucky that we live in an age where so many means of communication are open to us.

It fascinates me how Twitter has come into its own during this crisis, and has allowed communities to interact with one another in real time. By community, I mean groups of people with shared interests, no matter where they are in the world.

I often write about Doctor Who, and those who enjoy the show and its spin-off media are certainly a kind of community, one which has been very active these past weeks. Emily Cook (@Emily_Rosina), of Doctor Who Magazine fame, has organized several global Doctor Who watch-alongs. She selects an episode, sets up a time, and everyone starts watching at the same time and can contribute to a Twitter dialog. She’s managed to snag previous showrunners Stephen Moffat and Russell T. Davies, and many cast members, including David Tennant and Matt Smith. TardisMonkey (@tardis_monkey) has done the same with some notable “classic” Doctor Who episodes, including “The Five Doctors” and the upcoming watch-along, “The Three Doctors”.

Lily May Sherratt (@IreneWildthyme) has organized some listen-alongs with content from Big Finish Productions. Among these were the four Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips, including “Forever Fallen”, “Landbound”, “Last Day at Work”, and “The Best-Laid Plans”, with live Twitter commentary from the authors, including yours truly. Big Finish themselves recently organized a global listen-along to the Eighth Doctor story, “The Chimes of Midnight”.

There are other types of community projects. For example, for the past few weeks, seven authors of Big Finish Short Trips have collaborated on a Doctor Who fan fiction story, one tweet at a time. With a couple of weeks to go, we’ve just topped 1,000 words. Almost surprisingly, the story is working out pretty well. I say “almost surprisingly” because there’s been no coordinated plotting, and none of us has any idea what will come from a given day’s tweet. It’s been a fascinating experiment in minimalistic writing, because you need to keep your word count down while moving the story forward in some way. All in 280 characters. Look out for the hashtag, #WhoFicTweets.

Aside from being an interesting exercise in collaboration, particularly as I’ve never collaborated with other writers before, I find it’s given me a nice feeling of connection with the other writers. And in these times, we can use all the connections that we can get.

I would urge you, if you’re at wits end during this extended period of lockdown, to seek out community members with similar interests and engage in some activity, be it a creative endeavour or not. Don’t disparage the notion of online friends and colleagues. There are a bunch of people that I’ve “met” online, through writing fan fiction or in the world of Doctor Who, and I’ve enjoyed these relationships very much.

There’s many rewards to be had in the social media space. Just, you know, stay away from the trolls.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s