Sunday, April 22, 2012

I often wonder if the people who seem to be perpetually "harrumphing" as of late about all the "dumb" questions now being asked by today's budding Amateur Radio Operators ever stopped to think how they got the answers to those same "dumb" questions when they were "growing up" in the hobby?

I don't know about you, but back then, the only way I got the answers to such questions was by spending hours (quite literally!) plowing through reams of ARRL publications, including the ARRL Handbook that was (and, to a certain extent, remains) written primarily for budding RF Engineers.

And if you couldn’t afford to buy all that written material for your own library, you (like me) may have been fortunate enough to have an "Elmer" or two down the street (or at work) whom you could go to for the answers to all those "dumb" questions.

Indeed, back then, one's "dumbness" was largely a private affair between you and (possibly) your local librarian or (if you screwed up enough courage to ask them) your long-suffering "Elmer". 

I also don't think it has ever occurred to those pompous bags of wind who are now looking down their upturned noses at such newcomers that when they were "growing up" in Amateur Radio, there WERE no such mediums as QRZ.com or E-ham.net (or Facebook, or Twitter…or even the Internet) where one could go to quickly ask all those "dumb" questions and get learned responses from so many (so called "experienced") people all at once. 

The truth is that the world of education no longer works the way it worked when we were growing up in Amateur Radio.  And, increasingly, the general public….that "universe" we draw newcomers to our hobby from…absolutely does NOT understand the technology they hold in their hands or have in their laps. 

Indeed, as Randy Ross, KI4ZJI questions in a brilliant op-ed piece he wrote for a recent QST magazine, when Dad calls Mom as he is driving home from work, does he (or his son or daughter) give any thought about how that cell phone actually works

Or, when a teen is sitting on a couch using a wireless laptop computer and looking at her friend's photos and comments on Facebook, does he or she take the time to really think about how they are being connected?

Probably not.

And the reason for that is that "radio" is no longer "magic" to today's youth.  To the contrary, "radio" has now become an integral, embedded part of the mainstream of our society.

As a result, we, as Amateur Radio Operators, need to finally accept the fact that such things as Facebook, Twitter, MSN, the Internet and cell phones (et al) are not just passing fads.  They ( and their progeny) are here to stay, and their integration into the rest of society…including their integration into ALL aspects of Amateur Radio, not just the technology part…will continue to accelerate. 

The bottom line here is that our cadre of ever-present "crusty curmudgeons" (those folks who seemingly walked both ways uphill (in a blizzard, no less!) to take their 20 WPM, Extra Class exams in front of an FCC examiner) need to stop trying to shoehorn newcomers (particularly youthful newcomers) into getting their answers to those same "dumb" questions in exactly the same way that they all did.

We must, as a group, accept and then embrace the fact that these youngsters are now exploiting these emerging technologies as the (often now preferred) way of getting their information…and that includes the way these (often youthful) newcomers learn about the inner workings of our hobby. And because of the new ways of garnering information that are available to them, the only difference is that their modern-day "dumb" questions are now often being asked publicly rather than privately.

As a result of this reality, the rest of us also now need to embrace these new technologies and continue to look for innovative ways to integrate them into Amateur  Radio.  For, if we don't do this, our hobby will continue to become ever more irrelevant in the face of the "competition".  

Or, as Randy rather bluntly notes in his op-ed piece, our hobby needs to now either evolve or it will die

This means that we now need to meet our newcomers (particularly the youthful ones) in the ways that they are most comfortable with and not the other way around. 

Indeed, and contrary what some "old tyme" CW ops would have us all believe, Amateur Radio has never been about forcing one mode of communications upon the entire world. We therefore shouldn't now be forcing our newcomers to address their "dumb" questions to us in the exactly the same ways that we once did, either.

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