Friday, January 02, 2009

Twitter is the Ham Radio of Our Generation

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

"Twitter is the Ham Radio of our generation". Saw that on Twitter this morning (I monitor all tweets containing "ham radio" or "amateur radio"). Of course, this isn't true.

Twitter is, fundamentally, a public instant messaging service. In that respect it does resemble one aspect of ham radio, the VHF repeater. But in this respect Twitter just as much resembles either CB or FRS, if not more so. And the inane chatter of your average local VHF repeater is only a tiny fraction of what ham radio is.

Fundamentally, what Mike Germano's comment really illustrates, to me at least, is the widespread lack of understanding in the general public of what ham radio really is about. While it's certainly true that some hams do little more than habituate on a local repeater and chatter inanely, most hams do far more than this. For the most part, ham radio is about exploring what can be done with radio. This covers such a huge range of possibilities that no one ham will likely ever do them all in a single lifetime. While modern technology (including many, such as the cell phone, which have origins in ham radio) have made available to the public communication methods that were originally only available to those with ham radio licenses, fundamentally that's not why most hams become hams. It's actually really hard to give a single reason why people become hams, because there are so many different things you can do with a license. For example, in Indiana it is illegal to have a scanner in your car unless you fall into one of several exception classes; one of the exceptions is if you are a licensed ham, and so we are getting people in Indiana getting a ham license solely so they can use a scanner in the car.

I can only assume that the attention to this idea is at least in part due to the Twitterati hearing about the noise related to HamFeed and the thread on QRZ about it (which contains some choice silliness, but the QRZ forums are good at that). It's clear that we need to do more to educate the public of what ham radio has to offer.

And, as Ben Jackson pointed out in reply to my retweet of Mike's tweet, "there's no license exam for Twitter". Imagine what that would be like.

(Update: See also Jeff Pulver's "twitter: The Ham Radio (two way radio) of Today", and a response to Jeff's article.)

(Second update: On reflection, I realize part of Mr. Pulver's problem is that he was likely a "communicator" ham, a style of ham that dominated ham radio through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The "communicator" is falling by the wayside, however, so Mr. Pulver's problem is that he's just woefully out of date.)