Another in a series of outtakes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, this passage sets up the contrast between folk culture (as it operated in 19th century America), mass culture (as it operated in the 20th century), and the new participatory culture (as it operates in the digital age). I argue in the book that digital culture often applies processes of cultural production we associate with folk culture to content we associate with mass culture.
We can understand the relations between these three phases of cultural production by considering the example of three very different kinds of quilts. The first was made for my grandmother upon the occasion of her wedding by the women in a small town in Southern Georgia. The quilt was built up from scraps which each woman had left over from previous sewing projects. The cloth was commercially produced at southern textile mills, but its value here was sentimental – a token of each woman’s affection for the young bride. The women didn’t have a lot of money but by combining their scraps they could share what they had and express their support. As the quilt was being created, the older women were passing along their skills and experience to younger women, some of whom perhaps had never worked on such a project before. Quilting as a process and the quilt as a product both helped to shape the social relations between the women in that small town. The result was a one of a kind object, shaped by local traditions but also customized to the tastes of its recipient.