As you progress in the hobby, does it always mean that you can't appreciate the simple, basic things that were so amazing to you when you were a complete beginner?
I think the short and sweet answer is "No!" Seems like no matter how far we progress in the tropical fish hobby, we're still easily engrossed by simple, seemingly "basic" fish stuff. Yet, of course, we can't help but bring our experience and "advanced" tastes to the whole experience. We seem to have trouble viewing things through a beginner's eyes.
What do I mean? Here are just a few examples:
* You're at a pet shop and you see they sell goldfish for kids. The first thing you do is look to see if any fancy ones slipped in there. You're also curious about the filtration system on the goldfish tank...You'd love to change out the carbon. Is there carbon in there?
* At the dentist's office, they have a freshwater aquarium, complete with fluorescent plastic plants, pink gravel, and a bubbling clam for aeration. Within minutes of your arrival, you secure a seat next to the tank, and it takes all of your will to avoid reaching in the tank and moving some stuff around. Wait, is that Pleco and L137? Nah, can't be...or, can it?
* You're asked to set up an aquarium for a friend's young child. And of course, this is not an easy task, as you so badly want to give this kid a Southeast Asia biotope aquarium with wild Bettas, blackwater, and gnarled roots for the aquasacape. You know, the one you now say, "I wish I had when I was a kid!" And then, you come to your senses and realize that what she really wants is the Sponge Bob aerator, blue gravel, and some Long Finned Leopard Danios, despite your grand vision. Nothing wrong with the Danios, right?
It's weird, being an advanced fish geek. We totally appreciate the basic stuff; the "beginner's" experiences. However, we can't seem to want to bring everything up to "our level"- to "modify" the process. I get it. I often think, when I see someone leaving the "big box chain" pet store with a 5 gallon aquarium, three bags of fishes, and excited 5-year-old in tow that I'd love to do an "intervention"- to somehow stop them and scream, "No! You need to cycle the tank first! You can't just-" And then I realize that, although I'm right, and that we need to preach responsibility and all...we can't fight every battle.
I mean, you can, but it isn't easy. It is our responsibility as a hobby and industry to counsel people purchasing aquariums for the first time about the correct techniques, approaches, and impart at least a rudimentary understanding of the needs and care requirements for tropical fishes. The problem is, we can't be at every pet shop in the world. We can't be present at every dinner table, when parents tell their excited child that they're "going to buy them a fish tank tomorrow!"
Or, can we?
As a hobby and an industry, much effort is made to educate hobbyists on requirements, techniques, and concepts related to the fishes under our care. However, it seems like the real problem is reaching those who are outside of our industry and world. It starts with indoctrinating non-hobbyists about what's involved in keeping tropical fishes. Yes, non-hobbyists. Before they even think about a tank.
That old internet thing shows some promise, doesn't it? The problem is, your typical parent of a 5-year-old isn't going to spend a lot of time searching tropical fish sites for "How to set up an aquarium." We need to reach the potential aquarium consumer where they are, before they pull the trigger.
And they're not on aquarium websites.
He or she is much more likely to be on a more mainstream, parenting or lifestyle website, or the site of the store they plan on shopping at. Something less specific than a tropical fish, or even a pet website. Some of the big chains do a pretty good job of providing some information on tropical fish care, but it's awfully difficult to find a good beginner's guide quickly. Plus, it's often found too late. Why not just stick it on the front page? Why not have a link under "fish" literally called, "I'm thinking of purchasing an aquarium for my kids. What is involved?" I mean, the same thing for hamsters, mice, and turtles, for that matter, right?
We're in the most amazing age of information dissemination in history, yet we still have people jumping into the aquarium world with little or no clear information. We need to spend our collective energy communicating in the right places.
Can't some club, some hobby organization, somewhere in the world, create a simple, easy-to-understand guide to "starting your child's first aquarium", which can be disseminated somewhere other than the point of sale? I know some clubs who have done this, and it's worked well wherever it's been executed. I just think we need to do more, and in areas not usually "served."
And, why do we not do more outreach as a hobby- especially at a club level, by donating more aquariums to elementary schools? Of course, this kid of thing has been going on for decades, but wouldn't it be nice if we as an industry/hobby took some time to get even more involved with our communities, sponsoring non-fish events, getting involved with library or after-school programs, just being more visible to non-hobbyists, developing or sponsoring an outreach program for a local club to get out there. Anything.
The opportunity to engage, enlighten, and ignite the spark in children and adults alike is totally within our grasp. If we don't, the "Blackfish", "Snorkel Bob" and "For The Fishes" organizations will do it for us, albeit with a different message entirely. Thanks, "Dory." And their message is to shut down the hobby as we know it. We need to do even more. We need to do better. We can.
We just have to look a bit more outside the box.
And it's a vital thing. We've been exciting and delighting kids forever about aquariums. It's just that now, it's a bit harder to get through all of the clutter. A bit more difficult to target the masses with our specific message.
But it is possible, with a bit of creativity, to teach the children- and their parents-well.
Stay excited. Stay dedicated.
And stay wet.