Internet Puts New Face on Old Hobby|
March 19, 2014
As a member of Generation Y (those of us born between the early 1980s and 2000s) I find that I am no less susceptible than my peers to what many consider the cardinal vice of our generation: namely that we spend altogether too much time with our faces hidden behind the screens of electronic gadgets. While these devices – running the gamut in size from full desktop computer to cellular phone – are often a source of annoyance to older relatives, and undoubtedly teachers, they have allowed for an unprecedented level of connection and communication.
This increased connectivity grants utility far beyond the ability to complain about work to our 500 closest friends on Facebook, or share pictures of pets dressed in ridiculous costumes with the world. As important as these tasks may be, the real power of the widespread connectivity brought about by the ubiquity of the Internet and the proliferation of portable devices is the ability to unite widely scattered communities and special interest groups for the purposes of meaningful social and commercial interaction.
Numismatics is no exception to this statement. For years, hobby newspapers, coin clubs and coin shows were the major unifying forces in this community. Valuable though these are, they are not without limitations. Hobby newspapers, while playing an irreplaceable role in disseminating factually accurate information and timely news, are for most intents and purposes a form of one-way communication. While some dialogue does take place in the letters section and editorial columns, it simply isn’t on the same level as a face-to-face conversation. Coin clubs and shows physically bring the community together and offer the opportunity for plenty of face-to-face conversations but have the limitation that only a small proportion of collectors attend any given show or meeting. Limitations imposed by age, health, geography, time and financial status all conspire to limit the number of people who have access to these gatherings.
The Internet and the possibilities offered by online communication have greatly changed this paradigm by introducing new ways for hobbyists to interact.
Online coin discussion platforms have sprung up that allow users to discuss all facets of the hobby with one another from the comfort of their homes. While this form of interaction obviously doesn’t offer the same level of personal connection as does a face-to-face conversation, barriers to access are greatly reduced. You even have the option of communicating from the comfort of your own home in your pajamas, something I wouldn’t recommend trying at a coin show. All you need is a home PC, or access to a public one, and you can connect with thousands of hobbyists from around the country, and even the world, in a matter of minutes.
The buying and selling of coins has also been revolutionized by websites such as eBay, which allow the average collector access to an incredible number of sellers that dwarfs even the largest of shows. This access works both ways, and many sellers – particularly those who specialize in obscure areas or who are again limited in any of the ways discussed above – are able to connect with potential buyers in a way that would have been nearly unimaginable even 20 years ago. Despite the obvious hazards of conducting transactions over the Internet – lack of opportunity for direct inspection, shipping costs, etc., – a great number of people participate in the hobby in this manner, many of whom would likely not participate or have their participation curtailed if this means for buying and selling were not available.
Some websites, such as Reddit, even manage to combine the business and the social aspects of the hobby in one package. Reddit has been described as a “social news and entertainment website” and is much broader in scope than just coins. For better or for worse, the website contains user submitted content on nearly any topic imaginable, our favorite hobby not excluded. Here people can discuss anything coin-related, post pictures, and even buy and sell in designated areas. Identification of unknown coins is one of the most popular uses of this website as there always seems to be an expert (or five) around to provide clarity or answer questions.
Content and replies are ranked by other users, which helps to moderate the discussion by elevating particularly knowledgeable or interesting responses. I find it quite informative – and I’ll admit at times jealousy-inducing – to browse pictures of what others are collecting. Though seeing the collections and finds of others, my eyes have been opened to the existence of areas of the hobby, particularly in the domains of foreign and ancient coins, which I might have never discovered otherwise.
The point of my writing this has not been to justify burying one’s face behind a screen for days on end, but to illustrate that there are, and always will be, ways that our hobby can take advantage of technology to grow and become more readily accessible. The Internet has created communities of collectors where none existed before, enabled countless transactions that would not have occurred otherwise, and has provided a powerful resource available to all with access to a computer.
While the way that many participate in the hobby today is clearly different than it was in years past, the fact remains that people – especially those of my generation – are still talking about coins.
I’ll end by asking you this: the next time you see a young person seemingly oblivious to the world behind a digital screen imagine, even if only to make yourself feel better, consider the possibility that he is researching his Lincoln cents.
Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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