So you think you’ll take another piece of me, to satisfy your intellectual need…
It’s a pretty obvious thing to say I suppose, but until recently the Internet side of this hobby has been largely based on the notion of goodwill – volunteer effort providing the contributions, with the consumers (readers) hopefully being appreciative of that. At one time though, quality reading, quality modelling and answers to an assortment of queries didn’t come nearly so easily. Generally, you had to buy magazines, join a club or ask questions at shows; nothing was completely free, and folk accepted that things that were worth having were worth making some sort of effort for.
But anyway, the ‘free Internet’ is here, and it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. On the various forums, contributors contribute, and the consumers consume, and that’s all fine and dandy as long as everybody is happy with their role. But sometimes the relationship gets all out of kilter. Sometimes the reader/consumer starts to behave like he would with a ‘real’ consumer product, like the ones he might buy in Tesco or Dixons or Hattons.
There are some folk who seem to think that anything they could wish for will be set right in front of them, right now and in exactly the right form. I’m not so much thinking of the legendary ‘I want a model of 44567 as it was in June 1964’ kinda thing, but more the sort of thing you can see with requests for info, such as for instance the perennial topic of pre-BR coaches carrying blue and grey. A few people post info, the original poster might thank them (if they’re lucky and he hasn’t gone off at another tangent somewhere else). But generally all’s well, then someone links to an earlier thread on the subject and it’s like a tumbleweed moment. It seems that the expectation of somebody making one more mouse click is just too fantastic to contemplate, even though they’ll probably access more information by doing so. It seems they prefer the answers that are placed in their lap within a few minutes, even though they might not be the more correct or complete answers that others have spent time typing out before, but are loth to do again for the twentieth time.
Perhaps the most breathtaking example of this that I’ve ever seen though, is the comment below, to which I was treated to the benefit of earlier this year:
“I don’t give a fig for what anyone has done before but do it again for everyone so we can all benefit from what you teach”
So there you have it. Thirty odd years in this game, contributing to group projects, exhibitions demos, magazines, books and forums; long enough to feel content with what I’m about and not having anything to prove, and I’m still not doing enough for some. Tsh tsh, there was me thinking it was a hobby. And it’s not just me of course; many of my peers and contemporaries have invested a lot of time, money and effort, acquiring information and honing their skills, and now they’re expected to spend yet more time passing it all on in response to even the bluntest of requests.
When I set up Windcutter, I wanted to include several fixed pages covering the subjects that I’d been most asked about over the years. A lot of it was based on the Rmweb six-week train set weathering thread, itself a reaction to repeated requests for advice on starting with weathering and something that took up a good chunk of my spare time over several weeks. This was all done with the express intention that a) I didn’t have to repeat myself too much more and b) the reader would hopefully find it more thorough and comprehensive that way. Now chappie above professed to have an interest in my modelling (although actually I think he was trying to catch me out as an armchair expert), but he didn’t want to follow the link in my signature; oh no. He wanted it all right there in front of him on a plate.
This attitude towards volunteer effort isn’t limited to forum members; some of the admins can be just as bad. In the ‘don’t give a fig’ case above, the forum admins not only failed to control, but actually encouraged, a culture of poking fun at what they saw as a ‘rivet counting’ activity of appraising a couple of RTR models. Now what they saw wasn’t necessarily what others saw, but the hostility was so evident and so clumsily targeted that many of the said ‘rivet counters’ now view the place as somewhere they don’t particularly feel inclined to contribute to.
There are two sides to it of course, and I do speak from experience in saying that managing or moderating a forum is certainly no sinecure. There’s an expectation of a ‘right’ of free speech, which simply doesn’t exist – all of these forums are owned by someone, and you can’t just say anything you like on their bandwidth any more than you could say it in their front room. Ideally though, moderation should be about a sensible balance, being open to views that don’t coincide with your own, allowing free-flowing debate whilst simultaneously upholding the forum ethos and keeping the peace. It’s a delicate business, maintaining that balance, and some forum admins are rather better at it than others; one of the best I’ve ever known is now sadly no longer with us, whilst others couldn’t provide any real direction if they had a compass stuck up their orifice. But all too often now, ‘moderation’ seems to use rather blunter instruments, tending towards opinion control and social engineering and abandoning any semblance of consistency, impartiality or objectivity.
The above is also often accompanied by a certain amount of no doubt well-intentioned rhetoric about ‘doing’ rather than ‘talking’; unfortunately some of those doing the most profound posturing aren’t especially productive themselves. But their faces fit, their manifesto is ‘right on’ – but don’t you dare hint at having your own opinions. They want your knowledge, and the benefit of your experience, but don’t even think about disagreeing with them, or pointing out their flawed logic or their lack of grasp of key issues; oh no matey, that’s too disruptive.
Indeed, it goes a long way to explain why so many independent thinkers increasingly eschew conventional forums and have moved towards the blog approach. With a blog, whatever you put in does in a very real sense remain ‘yours’; it’s something you can do because you want to. Apart from producing the actual models, taking the photos and stringing together some coherent wordage can take a surprising amount of time – all of which is a further deterrent against doing it for anyone who thinks the way forward is to shame you into action with imperious and totalitarian attitudes.
A blog is also a good outlet if you feel your interests buck the mainstream norms – you can fairly assume that anyone who stops by does so because they want to see what you’re about, and not because they’re just grazing any old pretty pictures or ‘modelling by numbers’ that anybody cares to set in front of them.
As I write this, I’m all too conscious that I haven’t put any new content on Windcutter for some time, but hey, life’s like that. Funnily enough, nobody is more put out about it than me, but a hobby is part of your life, not the sole reason for it, and sometimes the rest of that life gets in the way. I’ve been fiddling around with a few things, but nothing really disciplined enough to warrant a blog posting of substance, and I’m not into fobbing people off with anything less.
I am aware that for some modellers, the hobby really is their life; maybe they live on their own, or maybe they have families but they don’t like spending time with them, which I find rather sad. Maybe they don’t have to work for a living. Maybe (controversial one this) they don’t go shopping for toiletries or presentable clothing. Maybe they don’t find it important to maintain their houses in habitable condition. I don’t know, it’s their life and it’s up to them, but I intend to exercise full control over my hobby and the way I enjoy it.
But anyway; the ‘Net rolls on, literally devouring content – of whatever quality it may be – and none of this matters to some of the more selfish ‘consumers’ out there. In fact they’re not only selfish, but short sighted, because if ‘the Internet is free’ is indeed the way we’re heading, then the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ may also come increasingly to the fore. Meanwhile, the rest of us will probably carry on as we always have – being largely self-reliant and getting out as much as we put in, and still being prepared to help those who help themselves, but not so much those who expect carrying.