Those of us in the Warren County RACES net had a great informal net last night. Usually we practice message handling skills, but this was our first informal net. We all checked into the net, and shared a few words, touched on today's snow storm and emcomm. When my turn came around, I mentioned that we should try and use simplex to see who could contact who without using the repeaters. It was quite successful and the group will be building a contact map. After the net, N2QFD drew the beginning of such a map, and I mentioned that we should also map out which repeaters each of us can use from our locations. I hope to see that go somewhere.
Over the summer, I tried working VHF digital packet. The Saratoga County club, which I am also a member of, has a digipeater that I can _almost_ hit using high power (50W), but it isn't stable. That particular node connects with N2TY's club digipeater in Troy, and both are part of flexnet http://www.northeastflexnet.org/. I can hit 2 local APRS digipeaters, and although it can pass short messages (ala twitter), it's mostly for GPS location. I mentioned building solar-powered remote digipeaters to my "neighbor" Mal, the N2QFD mentioned above, who is also interested in digital packet. I have a 3 hour-old email from him that I need to reply to regarding all this.
Ham radio is many things to many people. Banal "rag chews" are the rule, but some hearty discussion come around, at least locally. Just last week, while having a discussion that started with Rush Limbaugh's entertainment function and his sponsors paying for his existence, among other interesting and deep aspects of society, an unidentified station (obviously part of the Geritol faction) broke-in and called us all communists. We noted that Rush's high audience numbers isn't comprised of only his supporters, but a good number of those that see the humor and entertainment value that it is. We ignored the unidentified station's comment, but it is unfortunate that the station just didn't have the vocabulary to express anything thoughtful, or the courage to participate in a meaningful conversation.
That conversation (QSO) also touched on what the hobby is to the hobbyists. Contesters are into quantity, and there is a bit of an adrenaline rush associated with the activity. Some useful information can be garnered from contesting, tho, such as band conditions; knowing where signal propagation is best between different points on different parts of the spectrum. Others are interested in building antennas, others build complete rigs or accessories, and enjoy the technical aspects of the hobby. Commuters driving back and forth to work use the hobby as an alternative to the typical 1-way car radio, as it is like having someone in the car to talk to and can be useful in traffic situation and helping other motorists when the need arises. Some hams only communicate using CW (morse code), others use only digital modes such as psk31 and pactor, and others only phone (voice).
That "Geritol faction" I mentioned are elderly folks, often shut-in and of declining health, who use the hobby to enhance their social lives. The 75m band, 3600-4000kHz, is often referred to as the "Geritol Band", as groups of folks are often heard discussing their ailments and treatments. This group often has the strongest feelings about which modes should and shouldn't be allowed to be used, a choice between CW and phone; all else is an abomination. Of course we should listen to and respect the wisdom of our elders, as well as all amateurs, and apply their perspectives to our own. Some may be just too stuck in their ways, but they are as free to be as they are as are those of us open to new and different perspectives.
Amateur radio mirrors society in general. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. The hobby is a tool that can be used many ways, for different purposes, and as long as they are legal according to FCC part 97 regulations, it's all good. If it can contribute to building goodwill both locally and globally, all the better. Some have no interest in such an endeavor, and there should be no requirement for them to do so. The hobby itself has changed over time, as has society, and both will continue to do so despite anyone's wishes otherwise.