You might be surprised to learn how much energy I put into model railroading. Between my own models, friends’ layouts, ops sessions and the Railway Modellers’ Meet, I estimate that I expend over 10 hours a week on the hobby. Sometimes it troubles me that I spend so much of my energy on something so parochial. Maybe I should be applying my talents to some of the hard problems that face the world, instead of thinking about how to open roundhouse doors.
In my other spare time, which – face it – is limited, I’m reading Thomas Friedman’s new book, Thank you for Being Late. Like his other book that I read, The World is Flat, it’s having quite an influence on the way I see the world. It would be a tall order to summarize the book in a sentence, but my take is that he has observed that we face a world of accelerating challenges with a world of accelerating tools that can be used for good or ill.
With these ideas swirling away in the back of my head, I hitched a ride with my friend Mark Dance last night (Thanks again Mark!). Mark has been suggesting the idea of promoting the hobby through the Maker community for a couple of years now. Perhaps he’s also read Friedman’s book, because he pointed out that if we are going to solve the world’s hard problems, the world needs more makers, and model railroaders are the original makers.
Friedman further points out that today’s technologies enable super-empowered individuals, but without the moral and ethical framework that comes from strong community, some of those super-empowered individuals will turn their power to destruction. Okay, now we’re at the point that I’ve read to in the book, but he seems to have lost momentum when thinking about community, restricting it to physical communities.
Unfortunately, today’s communities are increasingly online. I belong to two communities where I feel “protected, respected and connected.” One is here in North Vancouver, and the other is here on this blog (and a couple of other forums I participate in). Many online communities are divisive – political or religious. If we are going to create super-empowered individuals, it is much better if they are members of a strong online community that encourages the use of their powers for construction rather than destruction.
Most hobby communities are inclusive; model railroaders for the most part don’t care who you are as long as you play nice. So, these are the ideal communities to nurture and grow online. The world needs more Makers empowered and safe within positive online communities. So, maybe this hobby is parochial, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
Photo: Gary Hinshaw’s first operating session. Left to Right: Mark Dance, me, Andrew Hutchinson, Gary, Bill Dixon. Photo by Scott Calvert.