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What fandom can teach us about cycling:

C. Wess Daniels has a great post wherein he explains Henry Jenkins’ definition of fandom thusly:

  1. Appropriation – A person appropriates in their own life a particular text, work, and practice relating to their fan object. Often these objects are reinterpreted in their own life.
  2. Participation – There is an openness for people to participate at all levels within the community. They are so inspired by it they write music, create events, etc.
  3. Emotional Investment – People become really invested in this this object, topics, etc. It is something they are really into and something they want to talk about.
  4. Collective Intelligence (rather than the expert paradigm) – There is room for everyone to have something to say and contribute to the collective understanding of the group. Collective intelligence doesn’t need credentials, degrees, etc., experiences and insights are beneficial to the community and conversation.
  5. “Virtual” Community – These are communities that are not necessarily built around face to face meetings. Some of these people know each other and some are unknown, but more often than not these groups will have times to meet face to face. 

Mr. Daniels then suggests (inspired by his thesis advisor) that we should start judging all communities by this standard. Are the members involved? Are they passionate? Informed? Communicative?

Enter Toronto’s cycling community, who won a major victory yesterday when the city council agreed to transform Jarvis Street from a five-lane, no-bike street to a four-lane + bike lanes version. Cyclists responded to a city-sponsored ad in NOW Magazine regarding bike lanes on Jarvis by appearing at a committee meeting and voicing their support for the lanes. But during yesterday’s city council meeting on the subject, some councilors claimed that not enough of Toronto’s citizenry knew about the proposed lanes — one meeting, they said, could never inform everyone impacted by the alteration. 

And they were right. A single in-the-flesh meeting could never inform enough of the people involved.

But it doesn’t have to. Why? Because there’s this handy-dandy little thing called the internet. Which is where people meet, discuss, plan, and organize. For example, search “bike lanes” on Twitter. All the posts are still tagged with information about Toronto. This is how people acquire and disseminate information. Learning about a topic online might mobilize a population to appear in public (see also: cyclists, cosplayers, vidders), but the process rarely works in reverse (if an event is unlinkable, it ceases to exist). Fandoms have known this for years, but politicians are just now discovering it (to their chagrin).  But it poses an interesting question: what would politics look like if it worked like fandom? What if voters looked more like the collective intelligences that Jenkins talks about?

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  • Madeline Ashby… a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity,, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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