Baby, you’re a Star!

Last week, for almost 36 hours, I became an internet celebrity.

I’d just discovered that, after discussions between BBC Worldwide and Cardiff City Council, The Doctor Who Experience (DWE) is going to be closed next summer. As a massive Whovian (literally and metaphorically), this made me want to sob with fury and indignation. I bloody well moved to Cardiff so that I could visit the DWE as often as possible (not strictly true – but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that having the DWE in Cardiff didn’t have a tiny part in my overall decision to leave Cornwall), and now they are going to take it away.

Cardiff is the home of Doctor Who. It’s so synonymous with it, even the road signs have Daleks on them!

daleksignAs a resident of Cardiff, I love watching the Doctor and his erstwhile companions running around ‘London’ or ‘Nevada’ or ‘the Planet of the Merenghi’ and going ‘Oh look – that’s Fast Eddie’s Diner down in the Bay!’ or ‘That’s the Haydn Ellis Building – I went there for a meeting last week!’ I also appreciate that Doctor Who and the DWE bring a lot of income into Cardiff, which may be a capital city, but by other capital city standards is really no bigger than a large town. It has a relatively small city centre and it’s located in the poorest area of Europe – South Wales. Here, we see the highest rates of unemployment and lowest levels of socioeconomic health in Europe: if anything brings extra income into the area, it should be welcomed with open arms – not closed down!

The news of the closure angered my inner fan girl, but the knock on effect for the local economy worried the grown up me. So I decided to set up a petition to stop the closure of the DWE. I did this for two reasons:

  • Like a child who had had their sweets taken away, I was genuinely upset at the thought of losing the DWE, and scared of the repercussions for Cardiff.
  • I wanted to do something to take my mind (and maybe the minds of others) off the shit-fest that was the American Presidential Election.

So I set up the petition, shared it on Facebook, expected my mum and 2 of my friends to sign it out of pity, and went about my business.

When I checked my personal email account a few hours later, I was very surprised to see hundreds of messages of support from people who had signed the petition. I had a quick look to see if anyone had signed it, and was completely gobsmacked to see that almost 3,000 people had. Wales Online had, somehow, got hold of the story too. To this day, I do not know how.

The next day journalists began to call me. Not big league journalists, but local papers and websites  – and a reporter from BBC Wales Today called me saying he wanted to interview me for that evening’s local television news. I’ve still not watched this, as I know I will cringe.

So what’s this got to do with learning technology? Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The Bad News

As a woman, I had to think long and hard about what I was going to do – I made an assumption when I pressed the ‘launch petition button’ I would get a fair amount of misogynist abuse, so prepared myself for this accordingly. Actually, I very nearly didn’t start the petition because of the possibility of trolling and flaming. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, and I have received just one abusive comment – the content of which was laughable. But the fact is that, as a woman, I had to think long and hard about whether putting myself ‘out there’ was a good idea.

This got me to thinking. I wonder how many women have decided against posting something that could make a difference online because of the spectre of online sexism, and of rape and death threats. And now that we appear to be moving into the ‘Age of Endarkenment’, (thanks in no small part to that shit-fest I mentioned earlier), I’m wondering whether this will be the last time I allow my voice to be heard on the Internet.

The Good News

But there’s a positive side to all of this – my petition took seconds to set up and launch, and has travelled the world gathering thousands of digital signatures as it goes. In 5 days, it had garnered over 6,000 signatures – and many, many messages from fans all over the world wanting to talk about how upset they were to hear that the DWE is going to close.  Hundreds of fans messaged me through the petition’s webpage (and many others found and messaged me on Facebook and Twitter), and shared stories of their travels to the UK and their pilgrimage to Cardiff. Many more expressed real disappointment that the travel plans they had been saving up for next year – to travel half way across the world for the sole purpose of visiting the DWE – now lay in ruins. But for 36 brief hours, we were a global community, brought together by a shared passion, wanting to share our experiences and stories of Doctor Who fandom, of visits to the DWE, and our collective grief at the thought of losing something so important to us – and to the beleaguered economy.

A week later and I have almost 6,200 signatures. I’m going to take the petition to the council and send a copy to BBC Worldwide (along with much heartfelt pleading). I didn’t think it would come to this – but clearly there’s a lot of passion out there for Cardiff’s very own Dalek museum! And it’s my duty to now finish what I started. The Internet can be one hell of a force for good – communities are formed in seconds, people rally around a cause, and strength is gathered in numbers. Had I printed out a petition and carted it around Cardiff with me for 6 days, I’d be knackered, need a new pair of shoes and may well have gathered 600 signatures – but not over 6,000!

In Other News…

…so here’s a thought. Maybe when we teach students how to be digitally literate, we should also make a solid effort to teach them about respecting those of us who aren’t white, middle class, heterosexual males. Collaboration is one of the linchpins of digital literacy, so let’s make sure we teach our students that the people we may need to collaborate with ARE ALL THE SAME UNDERNEATH. And let’s teach them that it isn’t cool to break Wheaton’s Law. In fact, let’s add this to the skills agenda. I think, when I look at the way things are shaping up out there, it’s the most sensible thing we can do.

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