Let me start off by saying, without reservation, that I love Ravelry. I love the pattern browser, I love the yarn info, I love my projects list and my queue and love having a quick and easy way to see how other knitters have interpreted a pattern. I think Casey and Jess and Mary-Heather are awesome, and I appreciate them down to the tips of my wool-encased toes.
I do, however, think that Ravelry has unintentionally created a problem – a social rift, if you will – in the internet-based knitting community.
When I started reading knitting blogs, back in 2005 (oy!), I was fascinated by the width and breadth of the knitblogosphere. The first blog that I remember falling in love with was Rabbitch – she’s funny! She’s crazy! She dyes lovely rovings and yarn! From there I followed link after link, discovering so many wonderful blogs along the way. Every once in a while I’d stumble on one that wasn’t to my taste, and I’d simply wander away again, and find someone else new and wonderful. For a while I kept all my favorite knitblogs in my browser bookmarks, and I eventually went to Bloglines to keep track of them all.
This process leads to a naturally limiting list of knitters whose blogs I follow. No one (except maybe Chris) can read all the knitblogs out there – somewhere you have to draw the line. As such, my list of blogs contains people who are, for the most part, something like me. They are people I find funny, insightful, interesting and entertaining. They usually share my morals, political views, and passion for correct grammar.
Because I am a person who tends to avoid conflict at all cost, I don’t read the blogs of people whose views and ideals piss me off. They’re certainly welcome to think, feel, believe, and write about whatever sets their little hearts on fire – just as I am free to not read their blogs. I don’t like that sensation of blood-pumping, teeth-grinding anger and frustration that I get when I read things that go against my morals – especially when I’m trying to read a knitblog. They are welcome to their corner of the internet, and I wish them all the friends and readers they can bear…I’ll be over here, being all liberal and knitting.
Now, because of this self-limiting view of the knitblogging world, I have (had?) a somewhat romanticized view of knitbloggers, and knitters in general. I figured that having knitting as a common bond with someone was enough. That knitting transcended politics, religion, gender…even language. We were Knitters…everything else was irrelevant.
Now there is Ravelry, 185,597 knitters and crocheters strong and growing. A whole huge website, dedicated just to us. Every one of those 185,597 individuals gets it (at least, theoretically.) They’re fiber people. They’re not going to look at you funny for knitting in public (unless they’re trying to figure out what that pattern is.) They understand the vital importance of the question “dpns, magic loop, or two circs?” They get the stash thing. They are my people. Which is wonderful.
But, at the same time, giving us this huge and diverse community gives us a means to further divide ourselves. We’re now not just knitters, but we’re Knitters for Barak Obama, or we’re The McCain Ravelry. We’re cat people or we’re dog people. We’re Christians or Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Pagans, or maybe we’re just Lazy, Stupid and Godless.
Now, when I peruse the forums, I don’t just see knitters. I see Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, adherents of particular religions, pro-choicers and pro-lifers. Now that we’re all knitters together, all I see is what separates us. Humans tend to define themselves by what makes them different from the people around them. When we were all knitters surrounded by not-knitters, we defined ourselves as knitters. Now that we are knitters surrounded by other knitters, we define ourselves further, looking for what makes us different, looking for our niche.
And where, once upon a time, if someone’s view set my teeth on edge I could simply choose to not read their blog…now they’re all on the forums. Sure, you can pick and choose the groups where you fit, and keep it pretty insular, but if you spend any time on the main six, or if you’re part of a group that tends to attract trouble (or, in my case, part of a group that finds trouble) you’re going to spend a lot of time reading posts from people who think stupid things (for whatever you might think is stupid.)
On the one hand, it’s good for us. It’s good to learn how to coexist with people you think are morons. It’s good to exercise tolerance and patience and reason. It’s good to get a more well-rounded view of the world, and to try to see things from others’ points of view. It’s even good to know what “the other side” is saying, if for no other reason than to know your enemy.
But the forums give us an unprecedented opportunity to come into conflict. Instead of fifty blogs I read and love, I now come into contact with thousands of knitters every day, via the forums. Many of them are lovely, smart, charming people…but some of them are fucking idiots. And unless I want to avoid the forums, I’m going to be reading their idiotic posts sooner or later.
Is “we’re all knitters here” still enough? Is that which unites us stronger than that which divides us? Will the opportunity for collaboration outweigh the opportunity for infighting? Or will the struggle to define ourselves bring the online knitting community crashing down beneath its own weight?
All I know is, it’s going to be interesting.