Psycho Mobs 100: Fandom Is Neutral

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Serdar and I have been having an on-again, off-again discussion on fandom and it’s value.  I offered that it could be limited, and he responded with a deeper analysis of fandom that included speculation on pathological fandoms and our inabilities to identify them.

Eventually I found out pretty much any fandom you could name was rife with this sort of insularity. Many folks cared more about the label, about what belonged inside it or not inside it, than they did about the possibilities that could be awakened by whatever was tagged with the label. I know now, full well, that a lot of circles of fandom are not like this. But I find the best way to defend against that is to start with the person rather than the interests.

No fandoms are perfect.  I can pretty much find a wank battle anywhere in fandom with a bit of surfing, and between reddit and Tumblr it’s probably easy for anyone to do so.  But I think we still consider fandom a good thing overall.

After Serdar’s comments, I began thinking of my own fandoms and interests.  I realized that I treat a fandom as a good thing by default, as long as it’s not a fandom of something obviously bad.  I did this due to my own positive experiences in fandom, often ignoring my own experiences that were negative.  Sure my experiences were on the whole positive – but not entirely.

Thus, I think we should consider fandom a phenomena.  It is something that happens, and it is not necessarily good or bad.  Often it has been a good thing – I think it’s been more a good thing or bad – but that’s because we made it into something good, often without thinking of it.  It can easily be misused and messed up as we’ve also seen.

This may seem a bit sad to say as many of us have had positive experiences, and because it reinforces the cynciism we often see about enthusiasm.  But it’s more a reminder to be responsible for what we do and take this pheomena and make it into something good.

Fandom can be a good thing.  It often is because we’ve made it such.

It’s up to us to figure out how to make it good, keep it good, and make it better.  It’s up to us to take this human phenomena and make it work for us.  There’s no magic to fandom – just what we make.

– Steve

Thoughts On Fandom Pathology

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I recently read a great Tumblr post (yes, I use Tumblr, where else can I get snarky Overwatch memes) about how writing was a way to reduce anxiety. This led me to a realization of how hobbies help us deal with stress – and hurt us.

Reading this reminded me that my writing is often a great way to deal with stress – I find it relaxing. Admittedly publishing is often stressful, but writing is quite enjoyable. Even when I’m not in a writing mood, I find once I get into the rhythm, I feel much more relaxed afterwards.

Even when not writing, there’s something relaxing about plotting my next story or blog post or book. I began to ask why was this.

I came up with a few conclusions.

  1. I like writing. Nuff said.
  2. If I’m having a bad day, writing occupies my mind, uses my abilities, and thus they’re not being used to think about how lousy the day is.
  3. I have a sense of achievement from my work, and thus if I feel bad, I feel better about myself.
  4. Writing connects me with people, giving me something to discuss, edit, work with them, share.
  5. My writing contributes to the rest of my life, building a skill, ensuring I’m published, creating options.

I’m sure you can relate. Writing makes me feel good due to a number of reasons, and I’m sure you have similar experiences with a positive hobby or interest.

Being a person who will analyze the heck out of anything, I then asked “why do some people’s hobbies lead to pathology?” If my writing interest yielded so much benefits, why do other interests lead to fanwars, harassment, and enjoyment becoming anger?

This is a complex subject and I’m not going to discuss all the elements, but focus on a few of my more intense insights.


First, the fact my writing connects me with others is a positive. To have others in my life relieves stress (to put it negatively) and enriches my life (to put it positively).

For some people, I think they may have items #1, #2, and #3, but their interests don’t connect them with others. This may be fine if that’s what they want. However if this isn’t voluntary, or they’re not aware of it, putting in time on an interest that doesn’t connect you to people may limit their social sphere. With limited social spheres, one is more vulnerable to stress.

So though your interest may have benefits, it may have social negatives. For some people, pouring themselves into an interest that leaves them disconnected may make their overall life worse.

(However we often need space, so remember that may be a positive)


Just because your interests bring you social connections, sadly, doesn’t mean their healthy. How many of us have seen, dealt with, or been in pathological communities based around hobbies and interests?  I’m sure we all have.

Even if your interest provides a number of benefits, even if it connects you to people, those connections may not be healthy or involve too much pathology.* In some cases you may be better of without the community.

It’s not just “does my interest connect me to people” it’s “does it connect me with healthy people and communities?”

We’ve all seen what happens when it doesn’t.


One of the major things my writing brings to me is a sense of larger connection. People read my blog posts. My books mean speaking and educating and of course making money. My skills are transferable to the job.

My writing connects me to the larger world.  That’s a good thing for everyone

I’m not talking just job and skills-wise – that’s my thing. A good hobby may help you build confidence or give you insights into things like history or improve tactical skill or be fun to chat about at parties. If your interest does “more” than just be relaxing and confidence-building and social, then it means you have a more unified, cohesive life.

But what happens if a hobby or interest lacks these connections? If it’s not transferable in some way? If it doesn’t enrich you as a person? If it’s of highly limited interests to others? In this case, it might be pathological as you’re putting a lot of time into something that may have limited benefits.

We should evaluate our hobbies by how they benefit us. “I use it to blow off steam” is fine if you’re aware of it.  “I’m just goofing around” is fine if that’s what you want.  Its just that sometimes this can go wrong when what you get from the fandom isolates or limits you.

I’m thinking specifically of the people who often annoy us in fandoms – people who spout trivia as a dominance ritual, or brag about game skills that are irrelevant outside of the game. The people who have put a lot of their time and interests and identity into something – but that thing has little to no relevance in the rest of their lives . . . and act like it’s the most critical thing in the world.

But – and you’ve seen this – these people act like it’s the most critical thing in the world.

This is why it’s important to evaluate our hobbies and interests, both to know and maximize the benefits, but also know if we’re down a rabbit hole. If we start caring about this side thing and its limited sphere and fandom, we’ll be disconnected from the world and perhaps get more disconnected. I’m sure we’ve all been there.


I think the ultimate expression of Hobby Pathology occurs when people’s hobbies lead them to a limited social sphere (those in said hobby) and that interest occupies a lot of their time without connecting to the rest of their lives. Soon you have something fun that becomes self-limiting and self-reinforcing – and with a community that feeds on itself and acts as a pressure cooker.

Such communities also tend to reward bad behavior. Because the important social signifiers are about said interests – not life, the big picture, the larger world – they become more important than things like actual civic behavior. If you’ve ever watched a fan war you know what I mean.

Finally, these tight-situations of almost “self-culting” seem to attract bad actors as it is. When you have a group and know the signifiers to communicate, you can easily propagate bad ideas or just build your own little fiefdom for yourself. People leave, more bad actors come in, you get the idea.


My ultimate conclusion here is that we should be conscious of our interests, to maximize their benefits, but also be aware they might lead us to pathological isolation or limited social connections. When one’s interests are of limited relevance outside of that hobby, and lead to a limited (or nonexistent) social circle that’s a sign there may be problems.

On the other hand when you can say “I am gonna do this to get away from crap” with full self-awareness, great.

I clearly need to study this idea more, but I think I’m on to something.

– Steve

MVP and Anxiety (My Agile Life)

(This column is posted at, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

This is an odd post. In some ways it’s about psychology. In some ways it’s about my use of “Agile” and Scrum  in my life. Either way, I think you’ll find it valuable, even if you’re not reading those posts.

Imagine that you have a problem to solve, but you’re not sure how to solve it. Worse, this situation is complicated by having many options – a common problem in a wired age with so much at our fingertips. You’re paralyzed by choice and fear of the wrong choice – so what do you do and how do you get out of this?

There is a solution – and one that comes from Agile and Lean techniques. Yeah, I know, trust me on this and keep reading.

The solution is something called Minimum Viable Product or MVP. In software and general terms, it means something that delivers the minimum needed to go to market and satisfy customers and get feedback. To get an MVP you carefully look over what you have to do, pick the effective minimum for the audience, and get it done right.

In fact, an MVP may be all you need for a while. Consider how many people or companies use bare-bones web pages with nice graphics and don’t need any more. You can apply this philosophy to your life.

To use MVP in your life, from plumbing to writing, ask yourself what is the minimum you need to do well to get something complete and ready. Sit down, list your concerns or needs or whatever, pick only the ones that must be done, and do them. You’ve solved your problem, and if it’s not perfect, you can tweak it later if you need to.

(And yes, that’s over-simplified, but it’s enough to get you started.  MVPs for products get more complex.)

Here’s a few examples:

  • You want to have premade lunches for a week so you make a big pot of chili and garnish it differently each day. Next week you might cook two different meals at once, but this is done for the week so you can relax.
  • You want to get a chapter of a book to an editor, so you make sure it’s clearly readable without fiddling with it endlessly. The editor can take it the rest of the way so you’re not caught in a writer’s panic.
  • Traffic is crazy due to construction, so you find a path to work that, if not the fastest, is the least likely to be congested. For the rest of the month your commute is longer than usual, but it’s predictable.

These solutions are not perfect but they are good enough and they get you on your way. In some cases they’ll save you time from worrying more than doing.

The other benefit of MVP is that going for the MVP prevents what’s called paralysis through analysis in the business world – overthinking. MVP gets you on your way and moving forward. In turn, the fact you are at least done means you can reflect on what you did, what you need, and improve things later. Sometimes you don’t even know what you need until you’ve done something after all.

In many cases – especially in life – the MVP is all you need for a long time, maybe forever. Sure you repainted the bedroom the exact same color, you didn’t spend hours debating colors like “Thupe” and “Preamble Brown”. Yes, the report at work could look a bit better but no one cares about the cover color. MVP can often bring you back to reality as well as keep you from anxiety.

Next time you have to fix something or do something, think about the MVP. It’ll focus you on value, keep you from over-elaborating, and reduce anxiety.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve