Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Don't Be a Curmudgeon

"I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that's invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things." 
The quote is by the British comedy writer Douglas Adams. For brevity we'll call the last point the curmudgeon's credo. It applies to pretty much everything. Yes, that includes amateur radio. The demographics of our hobby are such that over 90% fall into the third category. I am and it's very likely that you are, too.

As we grow older not only do we because suspicious of new technology and ways of doing things we are more likely to say it. The social governor we grew in adolescence begins to malfunction. We say what we want when we want to everyone and anyone. We ignore or fail to see the reactions of others. Physical presence is unnecessary: we say it on air or by pounding on a keyboard.

When I was a new ham in the 1970s quite a few of the older generations remained dissatisfied with SSB and transistors -- "real radios glow in the dark" -- and made sure you knew it. Contests and DXpeditions were frequent targets. For my operating interests I endured many derisory comments from the gray haired crowd. I quickly lost my respect for these elder hams. My teenager friends and I sneered and laughed at them and finally ignored the curmudgeons altogether.

Yesteryear's adolescent hams are today's curmudgeons. The passage of time does that. Not all of us succumb though far too many do. They're everywhere. Indeed, you may be one and not realize it.

Do you believe that the quality of hams declined when CW was removed from the license exams? Is FT8 not real ham radio because it's a machine talking to another machine? Do you demean those who use modelling software to develop and optimize their antennas because you know that any old wire tossed into a tree works just fine? Do you lament the endless cries of "599 04" filling the bands during contest weekends despite your not having turned on a rig other than a 2 meter handheld for the past 3 months?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions you may be a curmudgeon. Even if you thought to yourself, "no, that's not me," there is likely another similar question out there that will tempt you to answer "yes." I consider myself pretty adaptable to the progress of technology and operating practices and yet I occasionally get caught. The certainty of the old is insidious.

There is an antidote. There is a cardinal rule to remember to test yourself for curmudgeonly behaviour. I don't know the original source though variations are widely quoted. It can be a tough pill to swallow.
Never mistake a personal preference for a universal truth.
You see this play out daily in the news, infecting politics, religion, our families and our jobs. The tide against this style of thinking currently fills the streets with protests. Hams are not immune to the same deep misunderstanding. Escaping the trap of "universal truth" requires a leap of perspective.

No one is beneath you because they make different choices. Time changes everything. What was once common is now rare and what was once impossible is now routine. Technological progress changes our culture and especially the interests of the younger generations of hams. There is no right and wrong about it, just that we are most comfortable with what we know and believe.

Remember that and you will avoid becoming a curmudgeon. If you discover that you have become a curmudgeon it is never too late to change. Kick yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new. You have nothing to lose and you may find a new way to enjoy amateur radio and gain new friends.

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