It’s a cliché to say that the Internet has changed things, a cliché because it’s true. There have been few inventions that have changed the world so profoundly; inventions that, now that they are here, it is difficult to imagine life without. In Australia the government has legislated a ‘universal service obligation’ to ensure internet access for every person in the country, raising internet connectivity to the same level as electricity, water and the telephone.
In fact, it is the telephone that was probably the last great society changing invention. I’d never thought how much of a change the telephone made until I was watching an old film about Alexander Graham Bell which began with a man trudging through the snow on a cold night to leave a trivial message about something, then trudging back. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen any more, at least not in those parts of the world that have telephones.
The internet has become like that – it’s just there and there are many of us who now use it as an integral part of our lives. My start to each day now, even on those days when I only have 30 minutes between getting up and getting out the door, begins with me switching on the computer the doing other stuff while it gets going, just to check the emails – the reason for that will become clear shortly.
Technology has a way of changing our lives in ways not originally predicted. An example I like to use with my students is the first Moon landing. That people would go to the Moon had been predicted for hundreds of years, some using fanciful methods (a gondola strung from geese) to more scientific approaches. Yet what all those predictions missed, even ones from the middle of the 20th century, was that when someone finally did get there, everyone else would be able to watch it in their homes, schools or town squares. For all the technological achievement of getting a man to the Moon, it was television that made the bigger impact on the way we live.
The internet is doing the same, yet it is much more like the telephone than television. With television you are the consumer, with the telephone you are an active participant; you’re half of the conversation. Now you can use the internet like a television, consume. Until recently (7 shows ago) that’s pretty much what I did, I’d read the newspaper online, check out what was happening in the world of Everquest 2, and listen to podcasts – and I’d use it for knitting. Already in this show we’ve seen the vast array of knitting resources that are available, but they haven’t really changed the way we knit.
I can remember my mother going to get wool for knitting, I remember walking to the shops with her and being forced to stand still while wool of various colours were held up against me to see how they’d look. My opinion wasn’t important as to the colour, as I would have to wear it regardless, once it was done. I remember Mum and Auntie Mary and Auntie Fran swapping pattern books so all the kids in the street ended up in the same jumpers – only the colour of the Paton’s Totem yarn varying. (Of course Aunties Fran and Mary weren’t really aunties, but Graham, Deborah, Cathy, Jenny and my sister and myself just lived interchangeably in each other’s houses.) In fact I didn’t know there was any other type of wool, as I think it was all the local haberdashers sold and this was the late 60s and early 70s when Australia still rode on the sheep’s back.
Now we have patterns from all over the world, yarns made from animals other than sheep, or even non-natural fibres and I have access to it without leaving my house, thanks to FedEx and Australia Post. Surely everything has changed, but I’d disagree. All that has happened is that where my mother knitted with some of the other women in the street, I can knit with people from all over the world – the information superhighway has just made my street bigger.
The local haberdashery which carried Paton’s yarn (and which still does even today) is now much bigger with hundreds of counters carrying a huge variety of yarns. The people with whom I can swap patterns (public domain ones only, of course) now live in streets scattered around the world and number in the thousands. With sites such as knitty.com providing free patterns, and knit-alongs we can all be knitting the same thing for ourselves or loved ones.
Now I’m sure that there was an agreement (probably never articulated or even thought about) between mum and her friends when it came to knitting, they shared. If one of them had bought a pattern book, she’d share it around, and mum would share hers. I can even remember them doing bits of each other’s knitting when the need arose. In their knitting community, no one was a consumer, everyone was a participant.
That’s what I want to urge everyone to do, if you’re not already doing it yet, participate! The internet allows us to interact in ways never before possible. Communities of knitters have always shared their talents and techniques with those around them. The patterns and techniques that defined a region, such as the Fair Isle knitting, were shared amongst the community; and not just patterns, whenever people gathered they shared their stories, the joys and disappointments. Now we can all do the same, the boundaries are as far as the internet stretches, and that’s almost everywhere.
There’s that old saying that you get out of something as much as you put in (I use it all the time when trying to motivate students) – the truth is, often you get out much more than you put in – as I have found over the past 7 weeks. I said in show one that I wasn’t sure about why I started knitting again, I’m even less sure why I started doing a podcast about it. But I’m glad I did. Looking at knitting sites was fun, joining a knitting group was, and continues to be, fun – but none of that compares with the enjoyment I get every time I check my emails, and that’s because of you.
The main reason I check the emails at 5:30 in the morning before I leave for work is because it’s a terrific way to start the day. The fact that something I’ve done has in a small way contributed to making someone else happy – and then they’ve let me know about it – gets every day off to a good start. Now, I’m not touting for more comments and messages, although I do appreciate every one of them. I’m sure that when many of you have written, you haven’t realised how much of a kick it gives me to receive your messages – most from places I’ve heard of, but never visited. It might be home to you, but Des Moines, Iowa is somewhere that I only know from mentions in movies or TV programs; I’m pretty sure most of my students are tired of me telling them about the message I got from Denmark, Texas or Kazakhstan, but I’m not tired of telling them.
You can share the good times too – if you’ve been thinking about starting a blog or doing a podcast, do it. Don’t be put off by the “What do I have to offer?” or “I’m not good enough” thoughts, just get out there and go for it. The community of knitters on the internet, or the Interknit, is incredibly generous, you’ll be accepted.
It’s unlikely that when the computer scientists got together to develop the hardware and software for a system of linking computers together over a distance, they considered that what they began would eventually mean groups of people all making baby blankets for new-borns in South Africa – or that it would allow all of us to share our knitting – but it has.