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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stamp Collecting and Building Community

I often talk about "community," on these pages.

One of the things the Internet has given us-- as stamp collectors, as hobbyists, as human beings-- is the opportunity to connect with others and develop more of a sense of community.

In days of old, "community" was pretty much a local phenomenon. You belonged to a local "interest" group-- be it a stamp club, or professional, or political organization-- in your village, your town, your city. That was your "community."

Denmark Scott 737/AFA 768, from 1983
In some interpretation of the world, stamp collectors-- and letter writers-- were among the first who reached out to the precursors of the "Internet," through the fairly common practice of "pen pals," during the Victorian age. "Penny Postage" allowed people in the UK-- and subsequently in other parts of the world-- to reach each other through "Pen Pal Clubs." In many ways, these were the pioneering days of becoming "friends" with someone you'd never actually met in person.

With the arrival of the Internet the idea of "communities formed around a common interest" has grown enormously. Suddenly, we were no longer "geographically dependent," which expanded our opportunities tremendously. Although many philatelists may pooh-pooh the idea of email and the www as a tool to save stamp collecting, fact remains that it's through the Internet we're now able to so easily connect with thousands of collectors around the world whom we'd never have had the opportunity to know, otherwise. Not only that, but we're able to find colleagues and friends, no matter how specialized our field of interest.

I am not unaware of the fact that stamp collecting historically has been a pretty "solitary" hobby... and I also recognize and honor that part of the appeal has been that stamp collecting was something you could "do alone." As such, I would expect a general "personality profile" of philatelists to include disproportionately many introverts and "loners," if compared to the general population... many of whom would simply not be interested in sitting alone in their study for hours, looking at little pieces of paper.

That said, we humans are ultimately "social" creatures... and no matter how introverted we may be, at least some measure of our collecting enjoyment comes from "swapping fish stories" with our peers; comparing and sharing what we have in our collections, and trading with others.

It's up to us, however, to reach out... rather than allow ourselves to grow isolated behind our computer screens. It's up to us to use these new types of media as tools to connect; rather than as an excuse to not have to leave the house, at all. It's up to us to re-create stamp collecting as a 21st century "community," as well as simply an interesting hobby we love.

As I have written before, stamp collecting will not survive-- and even thrive-- if our main effort goes towards trying to bring more "retirees" into the hobby, using the "old ways." It won't work-- especially not in the long run. The people we need to bring into stamp collecting are from "Generation Internet;" the first young people who grew up as "technology natives" with computers and social media.

"Occupy Wall Street" protest in Port Townsend, WA
Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours in the company of several hundred people staging a peaceful protest outside the local offices of a large national banking corporation, as part of the now globe-spanning "Occupy Wall Street" movement. One of the things I "took away" from this event is the notion that the old idea that "the youth of the world will change society" may be an increasingly outmoded concept.


Most members of "Generation Internet" are mired down in escalating student loans, the struggle to merely survive in a hostile and uncertain economy and a certain degree of hopelessness as greater and greater numbers resort to "moving back in with the parents." It is actually the 50-somethings and 60-somethings who have the experience, wisdom... and (usually) the time and financial resources to make a difference. Interestingly enough, the activist/protesters of the 1960s-- for a while "absent" to pursue the almightly dollar and material success-- now find themselves as the most qualified to be "world shapers and changers" in the 2010's. They are not merely (to use "Occupy Wall Street" terminology) "in the 99%," they are typically in the  80th to 99th percentile who have the most to lose.

The thing that saddens me a lot is that such large numbers of people who belong to this subgroup of "former activists" are deeply apathetic and indifferent-- complaining endlessly about the "decline" of the world, but then choosing to sit at home on the couch with excuses like "I can't make a difference, so why bother?" and "it's up to the YOUNG people, not up to ME."


Getting back to stamp collecting, in order to appeal to "Generation Internet," we-- the "elders"-- must be willing to step outside our comfort zones to make room for them. That means not only being willing and open to using twitter, facebook, tumblr and online forums to talk about stamp collecting-- but embracing that "interesting stamps in 2011" may be what we (secretly, or not) would consider "useless wallpaper."

The future is now. Are we ready to embrace it and help create a new paradigm for stamp collecting? Or are going to passively stand by and allow our resistance to change to slowly kill the hobby love, and from which we've gained so much?

The next move is yours....


مسلم من أهل مصر said...

Very nice and passionate article

enjoyed reading ... and hopefully will try to act

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