Every once in a while, I think about the responsibility that I have as a vendor I the aquarium industry, and as a hobbyist preaching some different ideas.
It's actually pretty substantial.
Like many other vendors, I offer products to people and can’t educate them on every single aspect of basic aquatic husbandry. It’s really hard to do that.
I try to give them the fundamentals of the stuff we offer.
I do write lots of blogs and articles, and lecture all over the world, so I know I’m doing something to reach some people…but I sometimes think it's not enough. I think that I need to do better. I probably need to write more about basic sort of stuff than I do about whatever the hell is on my mind? Don't know. I do know that we all need to tell hobbyists like it is, without sugar coating everything.
There are dozens of posts and “build threads” on forums and Facebook groups that DO provide great information to hobbyists, along with plenty of articles by experienced aquarists discussing any number of arcane and fascinating aquarium-related topics. Yet, for all of this, we see what appears to be a very "superficial" understanding of the aquarium hobby by so many hobbyists.
I even see it in our narrow field...I literally receive 2 or 3 emails or messages a day, which ask me questions like, "I love what you're doing with Tannin. What do I need to do to create a blackwater aquarium?"
I mean, it's a serious 'palm-to-face moment."
Of course, I first start thinking to myself, "Do I not have good information on my site? Have I not discussed the basics enough?" "Is my website useful enough?" Then, I look at the 600-or so articles on all manner of arcane topics about this niche, the long-winded product descriptions, and detailed preparation instructions for botanicals. The inspiration sections and discussion on our website and social media...
Seems okay, if not just a bit byzantine.
And then, I realize that there are just some people that you can't reach, no matter how you try to make information available to them. They simply don't want to do any work to research something they're supposedly into...they just want the quick and easy answers.
And it kind of makes sense...I mean, these are often some of the same people who haven't even bothered to learn the most basic tenants of aquatic husbandry- you know, the nitrogen cycle, fish compatibility, acclimation, etc.
I truly feel sorry for these people, as well as the animals that are exposed to potentially fatal situations out of pure ignorance. I have always felt that, when I'm fascinated by something, I research as much as I can about- like, every aspect of it...I mean, that's how must of us do it, right?
The counterpoint to my assertion is usually is that the person doesn't "have the time" to spend researching all of this arcane stuff, and...
I really think that it's some product of our culture.
We don't need to do things the way we used to. Times have changed. Everything needs to be fast and friction-free...Think "Alexa" or other AI platforms that will ultimately take the "drudgery" out of daily tasks...
I mean, they have their place.
But for a hobby that's supposed to be enjoyable?
It’s far more interesting- and apparently, more immediately gratifying- to learn about what gear can get us where we want, and what fishes, corals, and plants are available. How to get the tank "finished" as quickly as possible. I think that we tend to perpetuate this by... well- no great way to say this- dumbing everything down. We feature the superficial aspects of the hobby- how cool the tanks look, etc., while failing to get people to grasp the basics. Or even the basics of the specialized topics we are supposedly into.
Okay, I sound a bit negative. Snippy, even.
These hobbyists also miss the joy that comes with understanding and applying something that they have learned. I mean, it's a hobby. It's supposed to be fun, right?
Maybe some hobbyists are afraid to make mistakes.
Yes, although we need to cut ourselves a little slack.
We all make mistakes.
It's part of the hobby and the learning curve.
Yet, when I see so many indications that hobbyists are just not grasping the basic information that they need to be successful, I can't help but feel a sense of disappointment. I feel like we- all of us who are experienced in this great hobby and industry- are perhaps letting down a whole generation of hobbyists. The results won't just be more "mistakes"- they'll be disasters which can drive some people out of the hobby.
All of which are avoidable if we take the time to educate ourselves- and others- on the basics of this stuff.
Yikes, I’m giving us a bit of an ass-kicking!
I think we need to sit down with prospective hobbyists and show them that learning about the basics is actually FUN. It’s actually really cool stuff that will make their hobby experience way more fulfilling and interesting.
This is where the LFS will shine above all.
Talking-to people who live, breathe, and sleep aquarium-keeping will help. Vendors online- same thing. Forums have a responsibility for perpetuating a responsible, educational culture. Too much is at stake. When the average person is in the hobby for only 18 months before throwing his/her arms up in frustration, something is wrong.
Especially when we are selling millions of dollars of expensive equipment and livestock to the very people who are bailing out in droves. This isn’t just a fight to create more understanding and awareness..It’s literally a fight for survival of the hobby and art of aquarium keeping.
How do we fix it?
As above...and it starts with sharing about the joy and wonder of all of these interesting aspects of the hobby.
Well, it starts with mentoring. It starts with getting people excited not only at the end result- owning a “slice of the bottom”- it starts with getting people excited about the journey to get there, and learning about how we can make the animals under our care thrive. It’s not just about the latest gadgets- it’s about the latest information on fundamental care of animals.
It's about preaching patience.
It starts by us once and for all embracing the local fish store and the people who work there. Sure, there are the stories of ignorant personnel and such- but these are truly the exceptions rather than the rule- yet they have somehow seeped into our collective consciousness and contaminated forever our view of the local fish store. Most give invaluable, free hands-on advice. Most attempt to instill a passion that goes beyond just shilling products, as is unfairly leveled upon them.
It continues with the culture we've cultivated. The social media forums. The local clubs and national/international specialty organizations.
As aquarists, we need to support new hobbyists with not just the generosity that we’re famous for, but the incredible passion that we curate. We need to give them the good and the bad information. We need to impress upon them that running without learning how to walk first is a painful way to learn.
Fishes, plants and corals are not just “merchandise”, and the learning curve should not include exposing them to potentially fatal situations that could have been avoided had the neophyte hobbyist been properly instructed about their requirements from the get go. We need to let beginners know that part of the joy of the hobby is learning about this stuff first hand..by doing it.
Stay passionate. Stay helpful. Stay curious. Stay involved. Stay patient...
And Stay Wet.