Tune In, Log On: Soaps, Fandom, and Online Community
Author: Nancy K. Baym
Publisher: Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000
Review Published: April 2001
Did you see Good Will Hunting? There's one scene where Matt Damon's character says to Robin Williams' character (a professor) "I read your book," to which Williams replies "so you're the one!" I want to thank both Wendy Robinson and Vic Costello for not just reading the book, but engaging it so thoughtfully and writing such interesting and balanced reviews. One can hardly object to invocations of Jane Austen and phrases like "seminal treatise" (even when followed by ever more narrowing qualifiers). Reading these two reviews ought to give you a pretty fair summary and evaluation. Tune In, Log On is, as Robinson suggests by invoking Austin, a book that tells a small story in a lot of detail. I tried to weave as rich a tapestry of one online space as I could in hopes that the details would show the tremendous complexity of the small while opening a host of questions and proposing a style of inquiry into the vast remainder.
As both reviewers point out, there are so many studies I did not do here! I focussed on the early 1990s, I didn't look at commercialism, I didn't look at the Web, I didn't try to make things generalizable in inferential statistical kinds of ways. It's true! On the other hand, I wouldn't assume that the prevalence of the Web and increased commercialism of the Internet have made Usenet, text based interaction, or the kinds of phenomena addressed in this study any less significant. The Web has surely eclipsed the public imagination, but Usenet (which never had the public's imagination) continues to evolve, grow, and attract millions of users to tens of thousands of discussion groups. Interaction patterns in other kinds of Internet media probably share a lot of the dynamics at play in the group I studied, and if not, the patterns I discuss might form illuminating contrasts. That my material is drawn from another point in the Internet's history is, alas, the nature of publishing Internet research in print media. If I had updated the book, it would still be out of date by the time you read it. The phenomena I wrote about are still going on in varying ways in many Internet groups. I'm glad that the book gives rise to so much thinking about what is different from what I studied, and I hope that the book goes some way toward inspiring and helping others to conduct some of the many interesting projects I didn't do here.
Let me also just add that although both reviews emphasize the audience studies dimension of this book, that crowd is only one of the audiences I wrote for. I did hope to speak to that ongoing tradition of scholarship and build the bridge that Robinson (blush) admires. But I also wanted to write a book that would be of interest to scholars, grad students, upper level undergrads, and other thinkers with interests in online community, pop culture, online language, or relational communication in the age of the Internet. And while it will never be like curling up with a Jane Austen novel, I did want the book to be an enjoyable read.
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