Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing; or Putting Online Community into Perspective

So there are people who love to crochet. Let’s imagine one named Susan.

When Susan discovered crochet, it changed her life. She couldn’t stop talking about it! Her friends and family rolled their eyes anytime the subject of crocheting came up, even though they could clearly see that crocheting had changed her life for the better. And besides, sometimes Susan would give them a nice doily or a Peter Pan collar for their daughter’s porcelain doll’s outfit.

So Susan set to work each day, crocheting her creations. One day, while working on a particularly challenging infinity scarf, she ran into trouble, so she went online to Google a solution. Wow! Look at all those hits! Soon, she found herself on the Crocheter’s Anonymous (CA) forum, browsing all sorts of trouble-shooting tips and tricks. She came away with all sorts of things to think about: new brands of needles, the various pros and cons of synthetic vs. natural fibers, things to ask her doctor about the aches in her fingers. She found herself wanting to participate, so she set up an account under the pseudonym “SassySuzie,” feeling that it provided an adequate amount of anonymity.

One day, she heard about a crocheting conference called Artful Yarns being held in Reno, Nevada in the fall. There were going to be live demos, lectures, vendors, and meet-and-greets with all the big names in the crochetsphere. Several of her friends from the CA forum were going and she thought this would be a great opportunity to meet them and have some fun in Reno away from the kids. It was still a few months away, so she started saving money and working on an elaborate sweater to wear. She really wanted to know what Sandra Stewart would think of the variation she came up with on one of Stewart’s patterns!

Conference time arrived, and Susan jetted off to Reno. She checked into her casino hotel, took a shower, and put on her special sweater for the mixer down in the Crystal Ballroom. She was finally going to get to meet Sandra Stewart! Feeling bold at the check-in table, she wrote her forum handle on her name tag. She grabbed a drink at the bar ($9 for a glass of chablis?!) and began looking around for her CA forum friends.

While standing next to a statue of a naked man throwing a discus (she wished she’d brought her needles and yarn to make a loincloth for him), a tall, thin man started up a conversation with her. He was kind of nerdy and awkward, and Susan kept glancing around for someone to save her. Then he said, “Oh, you’re SassySuzie! I’m DoubleTreble! You really helped me with that disaster of a project I was working on last month.” Susan was taken aback and not sure what to say—she’d thought DoubleTreble was a woman!

After nearly snorting her wine, Susan recovered enough to ask, “So, have you met Sandra Stewart yet? I’d love to get a picture taken with her!”

“Nah, I’ve moved on from Sandra Stewart. I’m more into the work that Tanya Dewey’s been putting out lately.”

“Oh? Why?”

“It’s just that Sandra seems…oh…behind the times? She’s so stuck on her way of doing things. If I have to stitch together another set of baby booties, I’ll just keel over from boredom!”

Susan smiled neutrally and nodded her head. She’d never heard of this Tanya Dewey, but made a mental note to check out her stuff.

The rest of the mixer was unremarkable. Susan met up with a few other forum members, but they didn’t seem to make a connection with her the way they had online. She tried not to be upset about it. Besides, she was more upset about the fact that Sandra Stewart hadn’t bothered to show up to the mixer.

The next morning, Susan filed into the largest of the two lecture rooms for the big Sandra Stewart talk. She made sure to bring her copy of Sandra’s crochet bible, Stitchin’ n’ Bitchin’: My Life in Yarn, so that she could get it autographed. She was disappointed that she couldn’t wear her sweater to show Sandra, but she decided she’d describe it in detail for her.

After waiting in line for an eternity, Susan finally saw Sandra face to face. She beamed and handed over her copy of the book. Sandra opened it, looked up at Susan, and asked, “To whom shall I sign this?”

Susan said, “Oh…yes, Susan! To Susan.”

“Okay, here ya go Susan!”

“Sandra, I just wanted to tell you that I loved your Pretty Posies sweater pattern. But I got to the shoulder and couldn’t figure out how to work my way around the seam, so I added a simple Afghan stitch to get around it.”

Sandra just looked at Susan, blinking a few times. Susan noticed suddenly that Sandra had caked on a ton of mascara that morning. Then Sandra said, “Well, I hope it worked for you. It’s not what I would’ve done, because if you’d just followed the directions, you shouldn’t have had any trouble in the first place.” Sandra smiled tightly up at Susan and blinked a few more times.

Susan just nodded and cast her eyes down to the floor. She heard Sandra call “NEXT!” as though she was at the end of long, dark tunnel. As she shuffled out of the way of the next person in line, Susan saw a large leather totebag at Sandra’s feet, half open. She saw some nice red wooly yarn—probably alpaca—and some needles poking out. Wait a minute…were those…KNITTING NEEDLES?!

Susan couldn’t believe her eyes. Sandra Stewart was KNITTING. She grabbed her iPhone, got a safe enough distance away, took a picture of Sandra’s bag, and immediately Tweeted it to her 213 followers with the teaser: Who’s a knit-wit now?

Her tweet was the most retweeted tweet she’d ever had. People responded breathlessly. Suddenly, her followers jumped to 484. Her blog stats were better than ever, so she decided to build on the momentum by posting a dispatch from the conference all about the controversy.

Susan was on a fluffy, back-loop-stitched cloud nine. She couldn’t wait to get home to tell her friends and family about her coup d’etat.

Knitting needles? Mon Dieu!

She arrived home just as her husband was putting dinner on the table for the family. Dirk was at baseball practice, but Hattie and Veronica were there. Susan went on and on about the conference and how Sandra deserved all the bad press she got for misleading everyone about her devotion to crocheting. Her husband, Darrell, nodded along, not sure what to say. The girls had been excited to tell her about the ballet recital Susan missed, but there didn’t seem to be time. Susan was in the middle of explaining the sweater story when she heard her iPhone’s push notification chime.

“Oh, I’ve gotta check that, it might be about the conference!” And off Susan went. Darrell and the girls cleared the table and put the dishes into the dishwasher.

In the days that followed, Susan felt that she’d found a calling of sorts. The blog, Twitter, and the forums she belonged to were demanding lots of time and attention. She ran into an old, dear friend at the grocery store and Susan went on and on about the controversy. Letitia was generous with her understanding, but she couldn’t help but feel that she was missing something. Obviously, Susan was very busy these days with her online community.

Susan didn’t have time anymore for crocheting, but she talked a lot about it. Occasionally, she’d look at her wicker basket full of expensive yarns and half-finished projects and yearn for the days when crocheting was simpler. When it was new and exciting. When she could sit quietly while the kids were at school and focus on making something useful.


6 Responses to “Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing; or Putting Online Community into Perspective”

  1. Nicely said! Maybe it just my realistic optimism, but I do cartwheels of joy when I see & know that people have bettered their health and lives. All it has to do is work for YOU! I love the freedom to live by general principles & fill in the details…life isn’t one-size-fits-all. I love the freedom to say, I know more today than yesterday.

    Great post!

  2. Humans are hilarious and you’ve captured our silliness very well here. My rule is that when I find myself thinking about online activity or friends away from the computer, I’m out of control, and I pull back and regain perspective. Real life is the thing – home, family, kids, garden.

  3. Haha. Exactly! But I must confess I kind of like all the fighting. Where else but in Paleo could you find people fighting over whether you should eat a potato or not? Or whether a person is allowed to use a certain naughty word? Oh my.

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong…I lurve a good argument! Where we get into trouble is over-identifying with any one stance, or assuming we know everything about a person based on something they’ve typed into a keyboard late at night 2,000 miles away from ourselves. We are a funny buncha monkeys, that’s fer sure. ;)

  4. Okay, this was frickin’ awesome.

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