Reader Request Week 2012 #6: The Cool Kids Hanging Out
Lance in Huntington Beach asks:
Wil Wheaton just Tweeted Chris Hayes about Rachel Maddow. Why is it that everyone I follow on Twitter, watch on TV or read seems to know one another? Is the world really that small? Does a bit of notoriety buy you immediate acceptance from other notables? Or is there a special club you all belong to and once again, it’s me being picked last for dodgeball? Please explain.
First: Dude, it’s totally you being picked last for dodgeball, man. You’re too slow. You keep being taken out first! And your throwing arm? Sheesh.
Second: Just because you tweet someone about someone else on Twitter doesn’t mean you know them to any significant degree. Twitter just gives one the ability to send a comment to anyone else on Twitter, and if you’re following one or both of those people, you’ll see the tweet. I could tweet, say, Fred Durst about the Dalai Lama, it doesn’t mean I know either of them. Fred Durst could even respond to me (or for that matter, so could the Dalai Lama) and it still wouldn’t qualify as “knowing” either of them in any meaningful sense. So that’s an important thing to remember about Twitter.
Third: It’s not that the world is small, it’s that who you are interested in as notables is specialized enough that there’s a reasonably good chance they might know each other.
As an example: I am notable, to the extent I am notable, primarily for being a science fiction writer — many of the people who follow me online one way or another (although not all) did so at least initially because they heard of me as a science fiction writer. This means there’s a pretty good chance they read science fiction and fantasy and also consider other science fiction and fantasy writers as notable to some extent or another.
As a science fiction writer, I attend a reasonable number of conventions, where I’ve met other science fiction and fantasy writers; I’ve also been a member of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for nearly a decade, and through that I have also had contact with a large number of SF/F writers. Over several years of seeing these folks over and over, some of them have become friends — some of them very good friends — because we have similar life situations, professional concerns, and recreational enthusiasms. Many of the rest of them I’ve come to know professionally as peers, particularly after I became president of SFWA and these writers became my constituency.
So if you’re a sf/f fan for whom these writers are important, and you see me chatting online with my friends who also happen to be sf/f writers, it looks like all the cool kids are hanging out, doing cool kid stuff together online, and so on. And how cool is that? Pretty cool. Of course, if you’re not an sf/f fan, and you saw me chatting online with my friends who also happen to be sf/f writers, it looks like a middle-aged dude doing a whole lot of procrastination on Twitter with a bunch of other mostly lumpy 30-, 40- and 50- somethings. That is, if you’re looking at my Twitter feed at all, and if you’re not an sf/f fan, why would you? And thus we learn the truly specialized nature of “notability.”
I know sf/f writers because I am a sf/f writer, and this sort of professional association is why (of course) a lot of your favorite actors will know other of your favorite actors, why your favorite musicians will know other of your favorite musicians, why the cool scientists out there seem to know the other cool scientists, and so on. Beyond mere professions, there will be other sorts of situational overlaps. One of the great cultural questions of our time is why do very successful musicians and actors always seem to date other very successful actors or musicians (or supermodels). The answer is, well, who else are they going to date? It’s not as if someone like George Clooney can put up an OK Cupid profile like a common schmoe. They’re going to date other famous people because a) they’re the people they know, b) they’re the people who understand the life and can (possibly) tolerate all the crap around it. An actor dating a supermodel, or an actress dating a musician, is the famous person equivalent of a corporate VP dating a manager in human resources.
The actual mundane rationales for the surface fabulousness of the famous (or at least notable) aside, there is one advantage to being a notable of any sort, which is that it makes it slightly easier to make the acquaintance of the people you nerd out over, because it’s possible they already know who you are and may even be fans of your work (or you). And while mutual admiration is not a good foundation to a lifelong friendship, it does make that initial encounter a lot easier, because you each already think positively of the other.
Look, I’m not going to lie: like any other person, “notable” people geek out at getting to meet and hang out with the people they admire. I mean, shit, man: The fact that Robert Silverberg knows me? Seems to tolerate me? Does not in fact recoil when I enter the room? There have to be multiple universes because this one universe cannot contain all of my squee. If you have the chance to meet the people you admire, chances are pretty good you’re going to take it. If it turns out nothing comes of it, then no harm done. But if it turns out you like each other and become pals? Then you’re living the fanboy dream. Which you never say out loud, of course. But even so.
And then there’s the fact that when you’re friends with someone notable, they often have other friends who are notable, who you then get to meet, and thus your network of notable acquaintances grows, simply because your friends have friends, i.e., you meet people like any person meets people, i.e., through your friends.
Now, there’s the flip side, which is you meet someone you admire and then find out they’re kind of an ass. But I’m delighted to say that at least so far, this has not been my experience. Also, notable or not, you don’t want to be That Social Climbing Dick, i.e., the guy who becomes friends with someone and then immediately starts looking to trade up in their friend circle. People aren’t stupid and don’t like being used. And that, too, is a constant in all human relationships, whether the people in them are “notable” or not.
But basically, Lance, when you see all the folks you consider the “cool kids” talking to each other online, it’s that fact that you consider them the cool kids that makes it seem like something special. Believe me, they probably thank you for it. But someone else who does not see these people as notable might see it as what it is: a bunch of folks who know each other to varying degrees, doing what people do online — letting each other know they’re part of each others’ lives. And possibly planning a dodgeball tournament.