The Times They are a' Changing
by K.S. Langley
(This column is revised and expanded from a Letter of Comment posted to FCA-L.)
When I was a kid, we had to walk to conventions. Through 15 feet of snow. Uphill. Both ways. Fanzines were scratched onto buffalo skins and delivered by pony express. When we wanted to replay a favorite show, we got together in the barn and acted it out for each other.
Okay, I'm being facetious. But there is no doubt that the advances in technology we have experienced over the last few decades have had a tremendous impact not only on society and culture in general, but on culture and process in fandom as well. Just thinking about the changes I've seen in my own lifetime of fannish participation . . . well, it makes me feel old.
Reflecting back to the early days of organized Star Trek fandom (itself an offshoot of SF fandom*), finding fandom used to be pretty much a had-to-stumble-across-it affair. A local fan club or zine publisher might post a flyer announcing an upcoming meeting/zine on a bulletin board in a local library, school, grocery store, etc. A pro con might come to town (SF cons, or ST cons when they began), or a local club might put on a small fan con. Reading a zine on the local mode of public transportation might prompt excited questions from a total stranger next to you, who would turn out to be a fan-in-waiting. Many ST fans learned about fandom (and the existence of zines) from mentions in pro books, such as The World of Star Trek or Star Trek Lives. Once in fandom, "penpal" correspondence was common, as fans found other fans through directories, letter columns, and letterzines. Fans found more zines through flyers inserted in other zines, ads in letterzines (later, adzines became common), by picking up flyers at a con, or through private correspondence. Some zine editors established mailing lists and sent zine flyers out by direct mail.
Today, even the most casual fan can idly type a request for data into an Internet search engine and find themselves smack in the middle of the world of fandom and fan fiction without even trying.
The impact of technology on the ability of fans to find each other has been good.
Back in The Day, fans who had the equipment to do so recorded favorite televisions shows by audio (first with reel-to-reel tape recorders and then with portable audio-cassette recorders, when they became available). It wasn’t high-tech; you just shoved the microphone up next to the TV, threatened everyone into silence, and flipped the record switches. For visuals, fans relied on buying and trading photos and film clips. There also was a brisk business in selling TV scripts (from pro and fan sources). This, of course, was all superseded by video recording technology—later joined by cable TV, with its many opportunities to catch up on favorite TV shows, both current and from Days Gone By. Just think about the impact this technology alone has had on fandom. The ability to pop in tapes and view episodes in as much detail and as many times as is wished and analyze them to the nth degree was a big benefit to fannish discussions, public or private. Fan artists, previously relying for aids to drawing on whatever photos of their subjects that they could find from dealers or in magazines, figured out the benefits of VCRs in taking photos off the TV screen. Before many years had gone by, the first "songtapes" began appearing. Video rooms at conventions became possible (originally, if a con wanted to screen an episode of something, or show a film, they had to apply to The Powers That Be to rent it—or finagle a donation of it—and then set up a projector and a screen.) Mentoring New Souls for the Faith became immeasurably easier and more effective with the ability to host gatherings in front of the VCR or exchange tapes long-distance. Indeed, VCR technology made the continuation and growth of fandom possible. Memories, audiotapes, photos, and the occasional round of reruns could not have sustained it and fueled the expansion that we have seen in the last few decades.
DVDs, VCDS, and who-knows-what-else have been added to the scene. Fans today can go online and download screen captures, video clips, song videos, audio interviews, movie trailers, and everything else under the sun. Fan artists can use screen captures and scanners to create their photo reference libraries.
Fiction writers can edit as they compose on their computers, print (or photocopy) multiple copies and research any and every topic on the Internet (as opposed to typing on manual typewriters with carbon paper for copies and slogging back and forth to the local library for references).
Filkers and filk fans also have benefited from new technology, as vinyl records gave way to audio-cassette tapes and then to CDs. Recording technology has greatly improved. Filk radio and "virtual" filksings are available online; filk Web sites abound.
The impact of technology in these areas of fannish endeavor has been good.
Fannish communication was a whole different ball game. It's dead easy nowadays, isn't it? Email is zippity-do-da, discussion lists proliferate like mutant rabbits, cheap long-distance options abound. The difficulty in communication today is how to manage that flood of email in the inbox. Not so, Back Then. Long distance fan-to-fan communication was achieved by letter writing. By hand. Or maybe with a manual typewriter. (I relied on paper and pen for those 40-page screeds I penned to my fannish friends. When we got one of those new-fangled portable cassette recorders at our house, we switched to making audiotapes for each other. Some fans had better budgets and could afford long-distance calls, but that was a very rare treat for me.) Manual typewriters gave way to electric models, then word processors, then personal computers—with Internet and email access. (Nowadays I call my long-distance fan friends several times a week and email them in between.)
The impact of technology on personal communication between fans has been good.
Before online discussion lists, there were letterzines, APAs (both of which formats still exist today), and lettercols in zines. Some fans were "letterhacks," whose primary fannish activity was writing LoCs. Letterzines were produced by an editor/publisher and contained letters of comment, zine reviews, essays, columns, con reports, zine and con ads, etc. (some letterzines also published short pieces of fiction. It was standard practice for many letterzines to include a Topic of the Month in each issue, to focus discussion in the next issue. Publication might be monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly. While most APAs (and a few letterzines) collated or compiled LoCs for distribution "as is," letterzine editors usually retyped every contribution and laid out the zine for printing.
When the latest issue of a letterzine arrived, the deadline for the next issue was weeks (or months) away. There was time to read, reread, digest all the letters and topics raised, discuss them with fan friends, and then sit down to pen or type a response for the next issue. Writing LoCs was a more involved process then, with no way to make corrections easily, to revise, edit, cut and paste quotes, etc., as is possible on a computer and with email. Even the mechanics of submitting LoCs—addressing and stamping envelopes, taking them to the mailbox or post office—required more than simply hitting "send." As a result, fans generally wrote when they felt they had something significant to say. And, although letterzines certainly have had their share of heated debates, disagreements, and even feuds (such is human nature, within fandom or without), the publication deadlines allowed everyone more time for reflection and exercise of temperance before responding to a volatile issue.
Not every contribution to a letterzine or lettercol might make it to print, if the deadline wasn't met, or if the editor had budgetary issues that restricted the number of pages. (It was common to list the names of letter-writers who didn't get printed under the heading of "WAHF"—We Also Heard From.) It also was much more likely for letterzine contributions to be edited. Editing might be done for grammar and spelling, repetition and length, perhaps even for content (although some eds stated a policy of printing anything they received). Letters perceived as attacks usually were returned without printing. Obviously this is different from the average online discussion list (although some lists are moderated, giving the list administrator power to approve or reject posts).
With email technology and online discussion lists, and the ability to type and hit "send" almost as fast as the thoughts form, it is much easier to disrupt a fandom with a "flame war." And, although weighty fannish topics are discussed (more so on some lists than others), it also is much easier not to discuss the subject the list was created for: what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation posts, repetitious Internet jokes, legislation hoaxes, chain letters, "me, toos" (that quote back someone else's lengthy posts—or even entire discussion threads—to the list), etc. Many 'net fans seem unfazed by off-topic posts and other quirks of email lists, accepting it as part of the culture. Letterzine writers and publishers really could not afford to waste the time, space, and money, so, frankly, it made for much more focused and easier to follow discussion.
And, while the easy access to online discussion fosters participation, the pace of the discussion is so accelerated that a discussion thread is often over and done with before some busy subscribers have even seen and caught up on it, much less had time to form a response.
Another aspect that has changed in communication is the multiplicity of forums. The ease with which fans can set up discussion lists may be seen by some as a positive, allowing fans to narrowly target the aspects of fandom that they are interested in (i.e., not just a particular fandom, but perhaps a specific character or relationship, a story element, a virtual season, a spoiler list, etc.). Others consider that it splinters fandoms, with some fans complaining about the number of lists they have to subscribe to in order to keep up in their chosen fandom. In the letterzines, discussion was much more centralized. Generally, fans came to one major place to discuss episodes, characters, fiction, etc. (Although sometimes fandoms had a major letterzine in more than one country, as subbing overseas could be a problem, or occasionally a fandom would develop a separate slash letterzine.) This centralized discussion provided a learning environment for many fans, giving them an understanding and appreciation of aspects of their fandom they would not have been exposed to if they were splintering themselves off in more specialized discussion forums.
The impact of technology on group communication has been a mixed bag.
Fan artwork also has seen the effects of technology, as photo manipulations and computer-generated work have taken an ever-increasing position in fandom—on Web sites, at convention art shows, and in zines. Hand-drawn and hand-painted fan artwork is much less common than in decades past. New fan artists are not being mentored up to take the place of fan artists who have moved on. (In fact, it seems as if less artwork of any kind is seen in fanzines these days. Comments on lists indicate this is not a problem for many fans, used to reading online or printing from the 'net, where stories mainly are text only. Visuals seem to be less important to them—nice, maybe, but not necessary.) For the newer fan, the average 'net fan, the increased prominence of computer art doesn't seem to be a problem, but then, they can't miss what they never knew. Nor is the current climate conducive to fostering fan artists. Again, list discussions indicate that many fans prefer a photo manipulation of any stripe to the fledgling efforts of budding artists, so these artists are not receiving any constructive criticism or encouragement to learn their craft). The increasing use of photo manipulations may have its place, particularly for the modern fan, so that's a positive result of technology for those fans. But fandom has a history of thousands (and thousands) of fanzines graced with illustrations that are amazing in their quality, variety, and distinctive styles. It's an era in fan artwork that will never be seen again, and that's a damned shame.
The impact of technology on fan artwork has been a mixed bag.
Production and distribution of fan fiction is another area that has been greatly affected by technology. The methods for producing and distributing fanzines have changed tremendously over the decades. Earlier methods known to SF fandom included hektography, spirit duplication (ditto), and mimeography. Almost all of the earliest ST fanzines were mimeographed—an extremely labor-intensive process.
Producing a mimeographed zine started with retyping the contributions, on manual typewriters, onto eye-straining wax stencil sheets. It required strong fingers, clean typewriter keys, and, for preference, a high-intensity lamp. If the typewriter didn't have a special stencil setting, the typewriter ribbon had to be disengaged manually (because typing a stencil wasn't typing onto the page, it was using the typewriter keys to cut holes in the stencil sheet). The final layout of the zine had to be considered even before the typing started, as the typists had to remember to leave assigned space for artwork when typing up the masters. (Zines were often typed by multiple volunteers, doing their "bit" for fandom, for which they were repaid with a contributor's copy of the zine.)
Errors were a bitch to correct and involved steps like physically cutting the error out of the stencil, typing a correction on another stencil, and using stencil cement to attach the corrected bit where the error had been. To do special titles on a stencil, special lettering guides were used, with a stylus made to incise stencils without ripping them. Artwork was sometimes done directly on the stencil, using a stylus (and sandpaper for shading, if desired). Otherwise, art was done on electro-stencils (an electro-stencil machine translated an illo to stencil by cutting hundreds of tiny holes into a plastic mimeo stencil).
The early models were hand-cranked (electric models appeared later, for those who could afford them). The mimeo drum had to be filled with ink, then the stencil masters were fastened to the drum (one master page at a time). The paper (special "pulp" paper was needed, as regular bond paper could not absorb the ink) was cranked through and slip-sheeted as it came out (putting a piece of paper between each freshly printed page, to prevent smearing). Once the first side of the page was printed and dry, the stack of half-printed paper was put back into the machine, to print on the other side. (If paper of insufficient quality was used, "bleed-through" could result, allowing text from one side of a page to be seen through on the opposite side.)
The result was many, many stacks of separate pages that would have to be collated together and bound. The tradition for many years was to hold a collating party—invite a bunch of fans over to assemble the pages, usually in return for some refreshments and a free copy of the zine. These zines were usually stapled for binding, or hole-punched, although other types of binding came into use with other printing methods (velo binding and perfect binding, for example).
Depending on the quality of equipment, supplies, and the experience of the individual zine producer, mimeo zines could range in visual quality from professional level to the well-you've-got-to-admire-her-enthusiasm-level.
And mimeographs weren't to be found on every street corner. Fans who wanted to produce zines had to get the use of one, probably at a local church or library; it was the rare fan who owned his or her own machine. These factors limited the number of fans who could get involved in publishing zines—it was not for the faint of fandom.
Mimeo fanzines began going out of fashion when offset print shops became more common, but I have in my collection beautiful mimeo zines produced as late as 1994.
Offset printing was the next generation of zine production, as it became much more available to fans in the mid-to-late seventies. For offset printing, the zine editor produced a camera-ready copy and handed it off to the printing shop. Depending on the services offered, the prices, and the editor's finances, some chose to have the print shop do the collating and binding as well as the printing. Others might pick it up after it was printed and complete the process in the more traditional way.
Electric typewriters—when they appeared and for those who had them—made the process of retyping the contributions easier. But, as these models were not yet self-correcting, there was still no easy way to correct errors. "Corflu" (correction fluid) was the zine publisher's best friend. For offset, the typed originals required nonerasable typing paper (put your hand up if you remember erasable typing paper), clean typewriter keys, and a fresh, dark typewriter ribbon (put your other hand up if you remember changing typewriter ribbons . . . and getting the ink all over yourself).
Offset production offered the zined formatting options not available to them in mimeo production, such as reduced print. Assembling the layout masters involved the use of rubber cement, rulers, photo-invisible blue pencils, scissors, liquid paper, and oversized layout sheets. To achieve, for example, reduced print, a typical method involved mathematically calculating the ratio of reduction desired and then taking the typed pages and literally cutting and pasting them, with rubber cement and a ruler for measurement, to oversized layout sheets. As another example, to get a two column format it was necessary to determine what the final width of a single column should be and set the typewriter margins accordingly, type a single column of text to a page, cut it and rubber cement it to a layout sheet, then paste the next column next to it. The blue pencil (which could not be picked up by the camera that was used to shoot the copy for printing) was used to mark margins and centers, align art, make notes to the printer, etc.
To change typefaces (with electric typewriters, not manuals) the typing element had to be taken out of the typewriter and a replacement element (such as an italic element) inserted, then switched back. Titles, borders, and page numbers were added with transfer lettering/border sets purchased at the office supply store, using a photo invisible blue pencil and ruler to mark where they went and then rubbing them on the page by hand. Artwork had its own requirements, such as photomechanical transfers for half-tone pencil work. Colored pencil work and watercolors also required special handling. Pen and ink work was usually camera-ready. Frequently, illustrations submitted had to be cropped and then rubber-cemented to the master. Some particulary ambitious zine editors and artists even produced artwork that was hand silk-screened, a particularly snazzy effect that you don’t see any more.
The option of offset printing not only enabled more fans to get into the zine-production game, but it also increased their ability to produce zines that looked more visually polished than most of their mimeo counterparts.
Some zines combined printing methods: using offset printing for the artwork, for example, while doing the text on mimeo. Whether the publication method used was mimeograph or offset, there were many other steps in the production of the zine that had to be accomplished without benefit of current technology. Soliciting contributions, working with the contributors on editing and revising, advertising, and sales relied on postal service communication and whatever long-distance phone calls the budget could handle. Editing could not be facilitated by turning on a "Track and Edit Changes" feature, either. Contributors mailed in their manuscripts double-spaced, the editor wielded his or her red pencil to greater or lesser extent, photocopied the edited manuscript for the file, then sent it back. If the editing was extensive, the contributor retyped the manuscript with the agreed-upon changes before returning it (how many times the submission went back and forth in this manner varied, obviously).
In the mid-to-late eighties, home computers and word processors started to figure into the zine production equation, along with high-speed photocopy shops, paving the way for still more fans to participate in zine production.
Nowadays, it's never been easier to publish fanzines. Contributions can be solicited online, submitted by email, and edited (if any is done) on computers. Formatting, layout, and other elements of graphic design are a matter of keystrokes. Master copies shoot out of the printer and are dropped off at the local Kinko's for photocopying, collating, and binding. (Some fans today own photocopiers and/or binding machines and produce their finished copies "in house.") Zines are advertised for sale and purchased online. (I have observed with interest, however, that—with the ability to alter and enhance the design of a fanzine literally at the zine publisher's fingertips—it seems that many do not take advantage of this technology. I have remarked an increasing "cookie-cutter" sameness to the appearance of zines, as if all, regardless of publisher, are being turned out on the same assembly line.)
This ease of access and technology have enabled an ever-increasing number of “zine compilers” (as they have been dubbed by a friend) to join the zine production ranks. (With today’s technology, it literally is possible to produce a zine without ever reading its contents.) Zines compilers either do not have, or see no need for, editorial judgment and critical standards. Judging by the zines they produce, they must say “yes” to every contribution that hits the email inbox, and these contributions apparently go directly from the contributor’s keyboard to the final printed product, with no stops for editing (even basic copyediting) or revision in between. Good things still can happen in these zines, because contributors might bring their own editorial standards and critical judgment to bear and/or get competent outside editing before declaring a contribution finished and ready to submit to the zine. But any zine quality achieved as a result of this would be in spite of the efforts of the zine compilers, not because of them.
And, of course, the Internet produced a major shift in fan fiction distribution: archives, fiction lists, individual Web sites, Live Journals, etc. When zines were the only venue for distribution of fiction, it didn’t mean that every writer was guaranteed publication. And the fiction writer who couldn’t get his or work accepted by an editor (or have the means to produce her or her own zine) might never see public distribution. Today the only thing keeping a fiction writer from public distribution is his or her own inclinations. The average fan fiction writer doesn't even need to know how to set up his or her own Web site, instead posting to fiction lists and archives. The result of this has been a quantity of fan fiction in public distribution that would never have been possible in the zine-only days of fandom. (In addition, long out-of-print zines and stories are being given new life decades past what any of their creators could have imagined, as they are archived online or scanned into computers for reprinting.)
For many, this technological freedom for as many fans as possible to contribute is a big plus. However, the freedom to create fiction that goes directly from the keyboard to public distribution, often without benefit of anyone's second thoughts, is frequently also a very large minus.
Another effect of increased accessibility is seen in how new ways of reading and writing fiction have emerged. Pre-Internet, it was possible to be exposed to fiction in a fandom you were unfamiliar with, particularly as mixed media zines became popular, and then go find that media source product, to become part of the fandom. But it is a common practice today for fans to read and even write fiction in fandoms where they have never seen (or seen almost nothing of) the media source product. The Internet has created, for many fans, an entirely new way of looking at fan fiction, and a totally new genre of fan writing: “fanon”-based. Many fans seem very happy treating fan fiction as if it exists independently of any source product. They reach conclusions about characters, relationships, settings, etc., based entirely on fan fiction, not knowing how accurately it reflects the source product (and often not caring, if the fiction is meeting their needs without regard to canon). This even has led some fans to reject the concept of canon and canonical characterization, concluding that whatever a fan sees, or claims to see, in a source product must be valid, whether support can be drawn from the source product or not. [This is a far cry from early zine days, when Langsam’s Law was the rule of the day: “Don't Make Him Say That." As explained by Paula Smith (in an essay in WARPED SPACE #50, January 1984), this is a "special caveat for writing media-based fiction. Don't make an established character do or say something out of line with his established character, of if you must, give good, solid reasons why."]
It occurs to me that it also may be that technology, making possible this type of separation from the source product, along with tremendous speed of dissemination (allowing fans to take greater "ownership" of fan fiction, if you will) has changed fan fiction reading/writing practices in another way. It has fostered the rise of a fannish culture in which RPF (Real People Fiction—usually adult in nature) proliferates with abandon (gay and otherwise). Some fans undoubtedly consider this a positive effect of technological advances. Others . . . do not.
Technology has changed the process of fandom in other ways as well. Culturally speaking, when fandom was a relatively small and intimate community, the interaction of zine producers, contributors, and readers was a central element, and it was key to establishing critical reading/writing standards that improved the quality of the fanzines. Fandom went through a learning curve, and everyone benefited from the results of their participation. The expectation from everyone was that—even though this was a hobby and everyone was in it for fun—contributors and editors were going to give their best efforts and always strive to improve. (No, this did not mean that every zine published was a perfect gem—but it did mean that the editors/publishers of that zine would hear about that from readers and be expected to do better the next time. That was the participatory process of fandom.) Fanzines were appreciated as the end product of the creative efforts of not just the writers, but of the editors and all the contributors—artists, cartoonists, poets, essayists, reviewers, etc.
Also, concepts of BNFs (Big Name Fans) aside, fans did not draw class distinctions among themselves. No one—not editor, contributor, or reader—regarded a fan who "only read zines" as inferior or less vital to fandom than the fans who contributed to and produced the zines. Indeed, without the zine consumers willing to open their wallets and checkbooks, the zine editors were out of business. Without the zines, the artists, writers, and other zine contributors were "homeless."
Fandom grew and diversified. As has been noted previously, advances in technology made it possible to introduce more people to fandom and allow greater participation from them. ST fandom developed into Media fandom. Fandom became bigger and less intimate. More and more zines were being published. Fans were participating in multiple fandoms, neo editors and writers were flowing into fandom steadily, and everyone had more demands on their fannish time. The learning curve flattened out. Expectations and standards began to lower. With the speed and accessibility of the Internet, growth in fandom and growth in participation have increased at a phenomenal rate; new fandoms pop up literally overnight. The learning curve has all but disappeared. In general, expectations have continued to be lowered and standards to erode. Many readers and writers do not seem to have critical standards or expectations for quality, nor do they seem to feel the lack. Many view story discussion as if it exists only for the purpose of feedback for the story writers and not, as was understood for many years prior, for the benefit of readers as well, or for fandom in general. Fiction writers, distributing their work outside of the collaborative context of zines, are given greater prominence in fandom than at any time in the past. As a result, in many online venues, interaction between writers and readers is rigidly controlled for fear that negative comments will discourage story posters and cause the fan fiction well to dry up. Many readers treat writers as fannish deities who must be carried through cyberspace fandom on velvet pillows, or as fiction vendors who must dispense product upon demand and to the consumer's specifications. Or both. Many writers seem to expect obeisance, graciously dispensing their "gifts" of fiction to the masses, demanding ego-boo as if it's owed to them, and insisting on their "rights" to control how, when, and where their story postings may be discussed. The technology of the Internet has made these changes in fannish culture possible.
Yes, excellence in writing and editing can still be found—online and in zines. Striving for quality and craft is still important to many writers, editors, and readers. But, Sturgeon's Law notwithstanding, the percentages have been declining for years—markedly so in the era of the Internet (which is, after all, vanity press on a global scale). With the sheer volume of participation in online fiction, the numbers of good-to-excellent writers probably have increased overall. However, the numbers of mediocre-to-awful writers have surpassed them by leaps and bounds.
The impact of technology on fan fiction has been a very mixed bag.
Being a fan in the early years required a tremendous amount of patience on the part of the zine buyers. From the time that an ad appeared soliciting contributions for a zine to the time that it was in print, a time frame of 1-2 years (or longer) was not uncommon. Even a speedy zine could take six months to a year. This gave fans a very different outlook on fandom than is common today. That lengthy wait, that intense sense of anticipation, waiting for a new zine to hit the mail box; the thrill of finally receiving it, sitting down to savor it, front to back cover—because it could be weeks or months (depending on individual finances) until the next one arrived. Also, many of today's zine publishers seem to keep their zines in print indefinitely. In the earlier years, however, stencil masters and paste-up masters had only so much life in them before they wore out, so reprints, while done sometimes, were not the norm. This gave fans more urgency in obtaining zines, because they could sell out, and they'd conceivably forever lose the chance to get a particular zine (barring zine sales and auctions). Online, the expectations are that the fiction will always be there to come back to. On such occasions when a story poster's work does disappear from the Internet, fans just go to the appropriate list and ask for help, at which point fellow fans email the desired stories directly to them. Indeed, modern readers can treat their computers as Fan Fiction Vending Machines: click a few keys and a seemingly unending stream of fan fiction flows onto the monitor. It's like a box of virtual Kleenex, which they also regard, by and large, as "free" fiction (a topic for another day). Because of these differences, while Internet fans love their fan fiction as much as fans ever did, they don't value it in the same way earlier fans did.
Being a fan pre-Internet also required more . . . call it self-reliance, and certainly a greater sense of adventure. The concept of story warnings (and labels and categorizations) to the nth degree did not exist. (The notable exception to the labeling issue arose out of the original uproar over adult and K/S zines. Many fans were against explicit material in general or against homosexuality in specific. They called for labels on that kind of material so that they "would not be forced to read such filth." Not every publisher of adult or K/S material obliged, but it eventually became common for K/S material, followed by other slash, to identify itself as such.) In online fandom, readers expect (and even demand) an ever-growing list of categories, labels, and warnings, as a means to manage their time and pinpoint, as narrowly as possible, the stories that fulfill their reading desires. Indeed, fan fiction reading for the online fan is like ordering off a menu: readers can go to fan fiction archives, click on all the check boxes of elements they want to include or exclude, and submit their order. Fans today exercise an unprecedented amount of control over how fan fiction makes its way into their homes.
Expectations were different in the zine-only era. Fanzines did not carry spoilers, labeling was almost nonexistent (the aforementioned adult and slash), and categorization was basically a matter of which fandom the zine featured. Fans would get some descriptive information, as detailed or sketchy as space allowed, from zine ads and flyers. More might be garnered from reviews, LoCs, word of mouth or, sometimes even a first-hand look (for those fans who could get to a con or borrow a zine from a friend). It was based on this level of information that zine reading/buying decisions were made. It even was possible to get a zine completely without foreknowledge of the contents (fiction zines that were available by subscription, for example). In fact, the sense of anticipation created when you did not know what was between the covers of a zine was part of the fun.)
Although some zines eventually began to specialize (e.g. Contact, a zine focusing on the friendship between Kirk and Spock), it was not possible for a fan to tailor their fiction-reading participation in the precise way that fans can today online. Whether you wanted it or not, you were regularly and routinely exposed to different authors, different story ideas and styles, different genres, even different fandoms (in mixed media zines), thus expanding the reader's view and providing surprises both good and bad.
Fandom today most definitely is not an intimate community. Fans no longer share the same fannish languages and references in the way that they could in the early days. Now fandom is composed of many, many (many) smaller neighborhoods set against the much larger background of fandom. Fans are still as helpful and friendly as they ever were, ready to chat, dupe tapes, share fiction recommendations and stories, welcome and mentor neofen into their particular fannish neighborhoods, etc. But fandom is also reflecting negative trends that can be seen in society at large, including issues of entitlement, instant gratification, and increasing illiteracy.
So, yes, expansion and technological advances have had a significant and inevitable impact on fandom down through the decades. Whether the impact has been positive or negative will be viewed by everyone differently, of course, based on individual perceptions of and experiences in fandom. (This essay represents mine, although it does not cover everything that I think about the cultural changes I have observed in fandom. I was trying not to stray too far from the framework of fandom and technology that I was responding to initially.)
It is also expected that, at some point, current fans will have a historical context, more changes and advances will occur, and these fans will find themselves reminiscing about the Good Old Days.
Note: Organized SF fandom has been around since the 1920s and established the structure of fan activities (conventions, fanzines and fiction written by fans, filking, letter-writing, public discussion forums, etc.) upon which we still hang our hats.