Well, I missed pretty much the entire Dr. Who convention this year because of coming down with appendicitis in LA. I didn’t get to mingle with the people dressed as the various Doctors, or Daleks or Cybermen or Weeping Angels. I didn’t get to help my daughter obtain autographs from actors. I didn’t get to collect ribbons and trade away the ones we brought. I missed the Masquerade, and the trivia contests, and the karaoke. I’m disappointed, and I hope we can find some kind of sci-fi convention to go to between now and next year.
When my family goes to the Dr. Who convention, we are amateurs. Yokels come to town. Why? Because we just love the current show and enjoy talking about it. We aren’t conversant with all nuances of the old series that ran several decades ago. We haven’t been following the various podcasts, web series and panels either analyzing the show or creating independent serials. We know little about the underworld of sci-fi television production, and the only people associated with the show we recognize on sight are the actors.
The convention is a microcosm of the larger world to me, because it makes me think about how I feel when going into any new environment, hobby or field of interest. There seems to be an expectation that I acquire a great deal of knowledge before I hang out with a group of aficionados, lest I be labeled–gasp–a newbie.
Video gamers coined the term “n00b” from this, a term that has many negative connotations. It’s used as an insult, basically, not just for the new but for anyone who is acting lame. So “new” is associated with “lame” and vice versa. Since it’s impossible to start a new game without being new, people must either endure ridicule or desperately try to carry off posing as an experienced player.
When did this happen? When did being new at something and/or not knowing much about it go from being an occasion for gentle condescension at worst to an occasion for contempt and rejection? And what does it do to a young person to receive a message of “keep your mouth shut unless you’re sure you know what you’re talking about and have searched the Internet to double-check.”
Our culture’s perception of expertise is changing. It used to be that there were a few experts in a given field: very few, if it was an obscure one. Now, because of the rate and extent to which we share information, even an obscure field has an amazing amount of information easily available. There seems to be an expectation that we not ignore any of it.
The trouble is that we’re not computers. We have individual learning styles and individual parameters for data storage, not to mention differing priorities. Take me and poetry…my love for it isn’t new, but my deeper involvement with it is. If you compare me to long-standing members of the literary community, my ignorance is no doubt abysmal. Yet, no matter how excited I am, I can’t read and assimilate new poets at more than a certain rate or the power is lost. This means I must be at peace with the fact that I can, for now and the indefinite future, be called ignorant.
Does this mean I shouldn’t try to be involved with this community at all until I have achieved some specific level of non-ignorance? Hell, no. I must be willing to present myself in any new field, if I love it, and own the role of the neophyte. Yes, use good manners and respect my elders, but don’t pretend to be something I am not.
Neophyte. I like that word. It was often used for new converts to religious orders, and comes from Greek roots meaning “newly planted.” Another good word is novice, which has also been used in religious contexts but simply means one who is new. Then, of course, there’s the word amateur, which comes from the word for love and was meant to denote someone who engages in an activity purely out of pleasure or devotion.
I hope my daughter’s generation will reclaim the words neophyte, novice and amateur. I hope they can embrace the idea that there is a difference between the discourtesy of willfully continuing ignorance and the innocence of the true neophyte. I hope they can learn to face the colossus of information peacefully, knowing that they cannot and need not absorb it all to enjoy and benefit from something. For they will need to be neophytes thousands of times, for all of their lives, unless they choose to hide in a fearfully and narrowly constructed barracks of knowledge.