Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Don't Read the Comments

In recent years I’ve been struck by the power the internet has to bring quilters together. Yes, quilters have always had social circles and guilds, but the virtual world has allowed us to make global connections, transforming what can sometimes be a solitary craft into something that is hugely connected - for better or for worse.

I’m active in a lot of social circles on social media. For example the Men Who Quilt Facebook group, another group called UK Quilters United, and of course the 52Quilters project I run on Instagram. Recently I have been thinking more and more about the power that the internet has in our creative work. It holds the power to connect us, but also it has the power to cause much misunderstanding and division among us.

I’ve experienced this as the organiser of 52Quilters where comments have occasionally spun out of control, but thankfully I do not have to moderate this feed very often. Still, behind the scenes emails are often misinterpreted or people who work hard to promote a social, warm and aspirational tone on Instagram turn out to have a surprisingly different tone or attitude behind the scenes. There are inevitably problems, misunderstanding and communication barriers when you are organising a project that connects 52 participants across a year to a channel with many followers.

Rather than just think and stew about this, I've started taking on projects that explore the impact of technology in my life. One is a series of works I’ve stared called “Don’t Read The Comments” another is my “I quilt for...” project, which responded to a call out I shared via 52 Quilters.

In advance of this year’s Festival of Quilts I was anxious about sharing a mini quilt I created that features the face of radio presenter Chris Evans. Last Summer I had taken a day off work and was planning on going to the Festival of Quilts, but woke up to a fury of comments on the UK Quilters United group that were spurned by some coverage Chris Evans gave to the festival on his radio show.

Some of the comments were fair and considered but some were very strong and I found it interesting to see how divided the comments were among a community that seeks to be united.  Some of the comments were personal views on Chris Evans but as the tangents split off there were also comments about how crowded the festival gets, that it shouldn’t be promoted to new people, and many other unrelated complaints. The seemingly light-hearted coverage, opened a pandora's box of complaints including a unfortunate rant about the presence of mobility scooters and wheeled shopping bags/trolleys. The moderators had their hands full on what for many quilters is already one of the biggest days of the year - the opening of the Festival of Quilts.

I see the online quoting community like family - UKQU in particular is a wonderful group that I value being a part of - I think of it a bit like a family, sometimes things are lovely and smooth and other times people clash, but ultimately there is love and support... but as I sat in bed reading the mix of comments, I decided not to travel to the FOQ that day. I was already feeling run down and the comments I were reading made me feel less and less like making the journey. 

I totally own that decision and know that it was the best one for me - I’m not blaming anyone for me missing the show, I’m just saying that if how I felt in the moment and that is what got me thinking about the power that social media has over me and others.

I decided to turn this into a project and have begun making mini quilts that reflect some of my online experiences.  The ‘Don’t Read The Comments: Chris Evans' piece is the first of a few that I will share when I’m ready.

The quilt is a mini quilt featuring a foundation paper pieced graphic of Chris Evans, and the fabric features anonymised quotes from the Chris Evans discussions that took place on the Facebook group.  I've submitted it to the Festival of Quilts, and sheepishly shared with the Facebook group in fear that it might start a fury of comments - but the feedback has been largely positive. Proving that much like family, the online community can also reflect and laugh about their falling outs and flare ups... as long as a bit of time has passed!

Ultimately I don't see this as an entirely negative piece, it’s just an exploration of one of the many sides of online interaction. I do understand that not everyone will like it - but hope you’ll appreciate me sharing it and hope you'll share your thoughts with me.

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