So you say you want a revolution? Will "evolution" suffice?

I love this hobby, despite my seemingly grumpy assessment of things from time to time.

One of the coolest things about our hobby is the amazing progression over the years in both the state of the art and the technology that we embrace.  Yeah, I know, I love to bash you techies, but I am appreciative for what you’ve done. Really. You’ve helped make some things possible with an ease we’ve never enjoyed before. Amazing  improvements that have enabled us to do things previously thought incredibly difficult or even, impossible, unfold daily here on the forums and elsewhere.  And the progression seems to be accelerating constantly.  Okay, I gave you guys your moment in the sun. Go back to your controller readouts, and create a program that someone other than an engineer can figure out, okay? 

Regardless, we’re in a great “Postmodern” aquatics era..What an amazing time to be a hobbyist!

It’s interesting, however, to watch some hobbyist’ reactions to new products, techniques, etc.  After reading about some new product or evolved technique, you’ll often see comments like “That’s nothing new, really. ___________ had something like that a few years ago.” or “All that guy did was add______. It’s not really new.”

Ok, well, maybe. And so what?

Comments and attitudes like this seem to overlook a few simple facts, so let’s look at this a bit closer.  Did you ever think about how the technology and practices we routinely utilize in the hobby came into being?  Much of it is built upon achievements and developments from the past. Successes and failures contributed to this process, of course.  I mean, it all started with a goldfish bowl, right?  Sure, there are brand new technologies that trickle into the hobby all the time, yet many of the hottest new products and techniques of today arose as a result of someone looking at something that was already in existence and saying, “I can do better than that.” 

It’s the “better mousetrap” theory.  Things evolve over time, often borrowing from existing technology or technique. And what’s wrong with that? I mean, Hollywood does it all the time with the wretched and vapid lack of creativity that you see in remaking everything from comic strips to children's toys in an attempt to entertain people…and it works.. sells billions of dollars of tickets despite the insanity of sequeIs to movies that should have never gotten green-lighted in the first place…But I digress.. think we do a bit better in the hobby, but the point is, you can draw from the past and create cool stuff for the present.

Evolution, I suppose.

One need not look to far back into the hobby’s past to see a prime example of this evolution: Remember when reef aquariums hit the U.S., and there was the sudden introduction of the 'trickle filter?" Derived from sewage treatment technology, this venerable invention powered the reef systems of the mid eighties, placing the promise of the “miniature reef” into the grasp of almost every marine hobbyist. George Smit’s landmark series of articles in FAMA magazine in 1986, extolling this technology, helped launch the modern reef craze as we know it. By 1988, it seemed like the marine sector of the hobby exploded in popularity, with dozens of new filter manufacturers arriving on the scene almost monthly, everywhere you looked.

As the decade wore on, however, hobbyists and manufacturers saw fit to improve the trickle filters that were available at the time, creating new models with greater media capacity, more baffles to break up flow, and compartments to hold equipment like skimmers and reactors. Little improvements that provided increased performance. Nothing revolutionary, mind you- just “tweaks”. Good tweaks, nonetheless.

Eventually, it was determined that trickle filters were great at removing ammonia and nitrite, yet tended to allow nitrate to accumulate rapidly.  In the nineties, many embraced the belief that accumulating nitrate could be a potential detriment to coral growth and long-term fish health, and almost overnight,“conventional” trickle filtration began to fall out of favor.  Hobbyists everywhere began yanking the plastic filter media (bioballs, etc.) from their trickle filters.

The “filter” became the “sump”, and was primarily the nexus for water treatment (mechanical and chemical) for the aquarium.  With no use for biological “towers”, within this new school of thought, this feature began to disappear from filters. Kalkwasser dosing was utilized to increase alkalinity and calcium and to precipitate phosphates… 

 The “Berlin Method” of reef keeping had arrived, and a derivative of this method has been the state of the art ever since, with many subtle tweaks.  Once again, existing technology had “morphed” to accommodate the prevailing school of thought.  The state of the art evolved, and so did the equipment.  An idea from the past improved upon to accommodate the needs of the present. Woah!

It's all over the hobby, in both fresh and saltwater.

In my opinion, we are often too quick to chide such evolutionary steps as “copying” or “ripping off” existing ideas, when in reality, they are simply improving and building upon what was already there.  This is the necessary progression of things in many cases. We didn’t make the leap from undergravel filters to high-capacity sumps and hyper efficient protein skimmers and canister filters, or from N.O. fluorescent to LED lighting overnight.  Hobbyists, manufacturers, and product designers looked at the prevailing technology of the day, assessed the needs of the hobby, and attempted to improve upon these existing technologies. Remember, many of  these improvements are done to gain a market advantage over one’s competitors.  For example, if I make an easier to maintain protein skimmer, hobbyists are more likely to purchase my product. Further refinements take place all the time.  This is how the hobby progresses.

It’s good.

It’s not just limited to the hobby, of course. Think about everyday technologies, such as telephones.  When the cord on the phone was cut, it changed the way we communicate.  Improvements in technology revolutionized the way we could quickly interact with others and gave us the “smart phones” that pretty much everyone on the planet carries in our pockets.  These “smart phones” allow us to talk, write, text, send photos,  use wretched platforms like Twitter and Instagram (because apparently, 140 characters, or only pictures, is the new human limit of information absorbtion…),and video conference effortlessly and instantaneously with others, creating true global communication once though impossible. Other than the two unexplainably popular stupid ideas mentioned above, these things are awesome!

Need more proof that change and progression in our hobby are often the result of evolution?  Indulge me again with another reef aquarium reference, but this is one that I've personally "lived through", so it comes to mind quickly:

Those of you familiar with my rants on reef aquarium aquascaping know that I am no lover of the ever pervasive “wall of rock”, which is essentially a large quantity of  live rock, more or less stacked end-to-end in the aquarium, it’s been utilized as the  “default” aquascaping configuration since the beginning of the reef aquarium hobby.  In my opinion, it’s outdated, uninspired, and essentially unnecessary.  I feel so strongly about this because, among other reasons, I understand its history. And, because I like to take a strong position on stuff and tick people off…Yup.

Anyhow..

Back in the 80’s, “live rock” was a breakthrough in aquarium management. Biological “filtration” and diversity of life were considered revolutionary concepts in aquaria. It was widely believed that you needed “x” number of pound per gallon of aquarium capacity to achieve these results, so when we set up our tanks, we dutifully dumped tons (literally, in some cases) of rock into them!  How else do you get 100 pounds of rock in a 50 gallon tank? You arrange it like a wall! Even though water capacity, swimming area, and flow were often compromised with this configuration, it was a widely held that the benefits were far greater than any potential downside.

Over the years, however, it was discovered that we really didn’t need all that rock for biological filtration, and that you could utilize other techniques (use of refugia, protein skimming, macroalgae) to help efficiently process nutrients in our aquaria. Hobbyists began to experiment by creating systems with less rock.  With the better understanding of biological processes and their affect on husbandry that we developed over the years, water volume and movement have taken on greater significance, and hobbyists began to utilize far less rock in their aquascapes, unless their design called for it.  

The “rock wall” was no longer considered the “only way” to run a reef system, and the concept of reef aquascaping has evolved dramatically, experiencing a real renaissance of sorts..Okay, the "rock wall" aquascape in reef aquariums is still around, but it’s kind of fading…

Thank goodness we never went through this phase in freshwater!

Inspiration is an “open source”, and innovation is for anyone to embrace. It can come from anywhere, at any time. Thanks to global communication fostered by the Internet, ideas can be presented and tweaked easily. Some aquarium technologies, such as lighting and controllers, borrow from other industries or fields of endeavor, whereas others, such as the development of new food products, arise out of  knowledge and experience gained within the fields of aquatic science and aquaculture-and good old hobbyist experience as well. Ideas, technologies, and technique “cross-pollinate” between fields, and the changes benefit us all. Sweet.

There is no great “hobby hegemony” that seeks to keep ideas and progression in the hands of some chosen few.  No sir. These days, anyone with an idea, determination, and a Facebook account can forge a new path for the hobby, and get the word out quickly.  Think about this for a while: As a Tannin customer you’re actually a participant in the progression in the hobby.  No watching from the sidelines for you…You’ve got a front row seat to the revolution, and your comments and questions do not go unnoticed by manufacturers, fellow hobbyists, and industry people. Seriously. I think Twitter’s stock just fell 20 points because I said I think it’s stupid….yeah.

Getting back to the topic at hand, the next time you might be tempted to criticize someone’s new hobby idea or product because it seemingly ”borrows” from something already in existence, realize that you’re merely seeing the evolution of the hobby at its flash point. The “bleeding edge”, as they like to say. Don’t just chide the development because part of it seems derived from something familiar.  Embrace it, enjoy it, and utilize it…. improve it.

Okay, time for some chin-ups and green tea…I’m outta here. Evolution awaits.

 

Till next time…

 

Stay wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

 

 

 

 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

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