A few weeks back, I had the privilege of speaking at the first annual Buckeye Reef Marine Expo down in Bowling Green, Ohio (which, by the way, was a tremendous success, thanks to the tireless efforts of Jesse Lambdin, Joe Perkins, and all the other folks at Buckeye Reef, who clearly went all out to make this a stellar debut event!). In the presentation, I discussed the role of information in promoting success in our hobby, particularly with respect to beginners. Among the various topics touched upon was “Challenges to Effective Information Sharing.”
Today, I’d like to share these challenges with you and invite your input on others that might belong on the list as well as what you think we could do to overcome them—not just here at Saltwater Smarts, but throughout the hobby.
Anyhow, here are some of the reasons we think we’re collectively “missing the boat” when it comes to reaching novice hobbyists with good information in a timely manner. But we’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, so if you have anything to add, please don’t hesitate to share it in the comment section afterward.
1. The Echo-Chamber Effect
In this all-too-familiar scenario, hobby information—or misinformation—gets picked up and repeated ad nauseam across the internet (e.g., garlic cures Cryptocaryon irritans). It can be very difficult for the novice hobbyist to distinguish between fact and fiction, and the repetitive nature of the information lends it an air of authority that may or may not be justified.
2. TMI or TLI?
It can sometimes be challenging knowing where to draw the line between too much and too little information on a given hobby-related topic. Is it, perhaps, better to give novices a barebones level of information initially rather than bury them in unfamiliar terminology so they aren’t overwhelmed?
The analogy I used in my talk was that of a motor vehicle. In order to operate and maintain a car, you don’t necessarily need to understand the workings of the internal combustion engine. You do, however, need to know things like how to check and top off the oil and other fluids, what the dashboard indicators mean, when to take the vehicle in for routine maintenance, etc.
A similar argument could be made about many aquarium-related concepts. Take the protein skimmer for example. Novices really don’t need to understand what dissolved organic compounds or hydrophobic/hydrophilic molecules are. They do, however, need to know that it’s a good idea to use a skimmer and that it’s important to regularly empty all the gunk from the collection cup, clean out the skimmer neck, etc.
3. Our instant-gratification culture
In today’s culture, when we want something, we want it now. There’s a very brief window of opportunity to reach someone with helpful information between the time they get the idea to set up a marine tank and the time they head for the local fish store or online retailer to buy equipment and livestock.
4. Confirmation bias
Sometimes when hobbyists seek information, they do so with a good dose of confirmation bias, meaning, right or wrong, they’ve already made the decision to follow a particular course of action and they’re just looking for information or opinions that validate that decision. They’re really not interested in having their position challenged.
5. Caustic tone
This last one is a biggie in my book. Ask the wrong question on some online forums, and you’re apt to be met with serious condescension or outright hostility. I think this has the tendency to shut down discussion and chill honest inquiry because nobody wants to be made to feel foolish when what they need is reassurance. We sometimes forget what it was like to be a total newbie in a rather complicated, jargon-heavy, equipment-intensive hobby.