By Denise Beusen, NAN Website and Social Media Editor
First published in the Winter 2022 issue of NANthology.
For each of us, there comes a defining moment when you realize you may have exceeded your shelf life…that you might have crossed the threshold into obsolescence.
For the boomer generation as well as the cohort preceding it, that threshold has often been defined by a reluctance to embrace technology: using a smart phone, email, text messaging, etc.
As a boomer scientist with a career in computer-aided drug design (CADD), I felt I hadn’t encountered the “fuddy duddy” threshold yet. But now I’ve realized there’s another dimension to that threshold beyond merely mastering the technology: the ability to appreciate diverse perspectives on how social media is employed.
It started with an innocuous conversation: Chris, a colleague ~10 years younger than me, messaged to encourage revisiting my Tetris roots. It’s a computer game on which I wasted too much of my younger years while dealing with the frustrations of launching a career. Eventually I found my way out of the morass and have never returned to Tetris – or any computer game.
In recent years, Tetris has been reborn as the gaming industry has taken off – enough so that the New York Times recently did a piece on it and the international competitions based on it.
Chris is also a PhD who works in CADD, and he still enjoys hours with his gaming console. In our conversation, I mentioned the son of another friend who is trying to build a career as a “streamer” – someone who plays video games online live for an audience.
Chris’ response was the turning point: he asked for the son’s “Twitch handle.” My thought was “Twitch? What’s that?” but nonetheless, I immediately forwarded the question to the father, and then passed the response back to Chris.
Chris quickly located the son’s gaming feed online and sent me the link; even though it was the first time I’d viewed a streamer, at least I was aware of the practice. I watched the son play “Path of Exile 2” while providing color commentary on his moves – the goal being to attract enough watchers that he could monetize it through subscriptions or ads. What I wasn’t prepared for was Chris’ next offering: a link on Twitch to a person working needlepoint!
Twitch is a platform for live interactive video streaming founded in 2011 and purchased by Amazon in 2014 – so it’s hardly new. To date it hasn’t been as widely known as other platforms (like YouTube), probably because the user base consists overwhelmingly of gamers.
After my exchange with Chris, I went to http://www.Twitch.com and used the search tool with a variety of terms to find streamers: “Makers & Crafting”, “needlepoint”, “embroidery”, “quilting”, and the like. There aren’t a lot of crafting streamers, but they appear to be a nascent and growing subgroup.
A brief look at several crafting streamers’ videos revealed a diverse range of options, from day-long structured classes to 4 hours of nothing but watching someone stitch. It appears that some – but not all – of the crafting streamers are also gamers; in effect, a cross-fertilization of two pastimes.
One of the classes I viewed had obvious advantages. Interaction is integrated into the Twitch platform, so it’s easy for viewers to post questions and for the streamer to respond, all in real time. But I couldn’t see why anyone would watch a stranger stitch (for 4 hours!) in near silence with little commentary. Huh? Isn’t that a peculiar form of voyeurism? Why would anyone be interested? Isn’t watching paint dry more informative?
Teetering on the precipice of obsolescence, I thought more about my reaction. Isn’t all social media a form of voyeurism? Think about how much of our lives we put out on Facebook or Instagram for others to see and comment on. Is that really any different from watching someone stitch?
Then there’s the question of who decides the value of any social media platform. I used to think Twitter was a waste until I started following a Minnesota Public Radio reporter who does a better job of analyzing COVID data than the Minnesota Department of Health; almost all his reports are posted on Twitter. So, the fact that I don’t immediately see the value of a platform may simply mean I don’t understand the myriad ways it might be useful to others and their interests.
And isn’t social media about building a community? Seen that way, are crafting streamers any different from those of us who organize guilds or stitch-ins? How many of us have gone to stitching events – local, regional, and national— without knowing a soul, but had no problem connecting with strangers as we ooh and ahh over their works? So, what first seemed like a strange activity on Twitch isn’t all that different from what we do in person.
Finally, there’s user demographics. Twitch users tend to be young – overwhelmingly under 35. They’ve grown up with social media and are likely quick to grasp the ways they can use it to enrich their lives. A younger me, more steeped in social media and fervidly learning to stitch, might have found value in watching someone else work on a project.
A benefit of the pandemic is that needlework instructors have embraced Zoom as a way of reaching a larger audience. To keep needlework alive as an art form, it’s essential we engage those who think of needlework as something pursued only by the doddering. It’s clear that technology has a role in that process— but is Zoom a technology young people will turn to for a relaxing pastime?
Maybe it’s time to think more broadly – to engage with a new and younger audience where they live. That might be Twitch, or it could be another social media platform not currently on anyone’s radar. At the rate technology moves, today’s trendy platform is tomorrow’s Pac Man. The challenge for all of us who say what we do “is not your mother’s [or grandmother’s] needlework” is to adopt the same forward-looking perspective when it comes to communication technology in its many forms.