Being a digital immigrant means I can remember a time and was an adult before the internet was wildly available. This also means I can remember that if you wanted to meet people and make friends, it was up to you. You had to join a club or a guild or a team, talk to the person in class next to you, get to know your co-workers at lunch or around the water cooler – you know, actually go out and MEET people.
High-speed internet didn’t exist. You had to dial up through your phone (landline, not mobile) to connect to the internet and because the speed was so slow, you couldn’t really share photos so there was definitely no social media! Online communities “back in the day” weren’t really a thing either – there was ICQ, Telnet, more that I can’t remember, and chat boards! And forget about talking about meeting people online – to do so invited the sound of crickets, and questions like “is that safe?” or “don’t you have friends in real life”? Super huge nerd alert to spend so much time on your computer!
Fast forward to today where nerds are embraced and we all spend so, SO much time online. Ravelry has been around for over a decade and social media connects us to everything and each other. It seems like we’re always connected – on our phones, tablets, laptops, and computers. We can “like” things with a thumbs up or a heart, and thanks to emojis, we really never have to say anything at all.
What is interesting is how our ideas of “community” have changed and grown online, how the world seems smaller the more we are digitally connected. My experience with other knitters and makers I’ve met through shop knit nights or at yarn shows is that we are all united in our craft by how solitary it can be. Most of the time we’re alone with our knitting or our projects and we talk about how therapeutic our crafts are, that they’re a form of meditation or a way to achieve mindfulness.
So I find it interesting thanks to Ravelry and Instagram and social media not that more knitters and makers are making connections online, but that we use that technology to make connections in real life.
When I was making the move from Canada to the UK six years ago, I knew what I would miss the most were the stitchy friends I’d made through my LYS in Toronto. I didn’t know what yarn shops or the knitters would be like in the UK. I was confident I’d be able to meet like-minded folks through a shared love of yarn, but I knew I would miss that close-knit community I’d been a part of.
My first stop was Ravelry to see what local groups I could join and if there were any knit groups I could meet up with in London. Luckily, I was attending a knitting retreat a few weeks after my arrival and there was a Ravelry group so that people could get to know each other ahead of time. What a difference it made! I’d never been to a knitting retreat before but having met people online in advance, it felt like we already knew each other. Chatter was immediate and a show-and-tell session allowed us to show off for each other (although the quandary of why we knitters point out our project mistakes to each other when in those situations is best left as the topic for another time). The act of making was our common thread, and it was easy to get to know people with the simple question of “what are you working on?”
In true knitter-ly fashion, we shared all our secrets: favourite tools, shops, yarn shows and festivals, indie dyers, and designers. We learned and laughed, and we knit and knit and knit. There is nothing so comforting as knowing you are with your people, your tribe – those who love something as much as you do.
Over the years since that retreat, it has amazed me how many people I meet at yarn shows, yarn crawls, knit nights where a group of people tells me how they met online. Social media has been the jumping off point for a lot of IRL meetups! Is it the fact that so much of our time is solitary with our knitting that we seek a personal connection? Or is it that with the textile arts, our naturally tactile selves want to see yarns or learn new things in person rather than online?
I’m sure it’s some kind of combination of these, including my contribution that as much as I love my online friends it’s hard to chat with them on the computer and knit at the same time! That being said, thanks to the power of technology and multi-person calling, I’ve stayed connected to my Toronto tribe through a monthly knit and crochet session on Skype.
One of my new LYS’ recently posted the most terrific quote by author A.J. Downey on their Instagram and it was too perfect not to share: “When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me too!’ be sure to cherish them. Because those weirdos are your tribe.” Aren’t we lucky that yarn lovers are some of the biggest weirdos out there? The members of our tribe our legion!