Community and comings of age: finding safe spaces on the internet

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In a YouTube video posted in November 2019 by author John Green, a case is made for entertainment being a “wondrously empty distraction”. I think that’s why, in search of a diversion from the monotony of the first lockdown last spring, I returned to Nerdfighteria, the first online community I remember being a part of. 

Although the phrase “Mission to decrease worldsuck” may make us cringe in 2021, at the height of the mid-2010s nerd-culture boom, the Green brothers were able to appeal to the huge online community created by fans of Harry Potter and Doctor Who, as well as fans of John Green’s YA novels, most notably “The Fault In Our Stars”. The Nerdfighteria project became a community that spent its time working on both charitable and creative projects through an amalgam of forums, social media spaces, and i-r-l chapters centred around the YouTube channel “Vlogbrothers”.

The Nerdfighteria project became a community that spent its time working on both charitable and creative projects

Despite being a now shrinking community due to the decline in YouTube and Tumblr’s popularity and an ageing fanbase, the annual Project for Awesome raised more than $2 million for charity in 2021. Although a combination of cringe and cancel culture has made it an incredibly emotionally dangerous act to engage with versions of our online past selves, my homecoming to Nerdfighteria allowed me to view my coming of age as part of a broader cultural shift in online narratives. It allowed me to reconnect with the influences that had subconsciously shaped huge parts of my personality, creating a broader understanding of the impact that the online communities I used to inhibit had on me while allowing me to escape to a simpler, pre-pandemic space.

Nerdfighteria, and the spaces on the internet we used to inhibit more broadly, are therefore online safe-spaces due to their importance as identity-shaping and re-affirming communities. During the pandemic, finding an escape can be as simple as returning to the media we used to take solace in, whether that’s logging back into long-abandoned social media accounts or the nostalgia of finding past lives in decade-old YouTube videos.

Image credits: Alice Simkin via Unsplash

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