When I was a youngster, I spent many a happy childhood hour tearing
apart old radios and TVs, messing about with bags of surplus transistors
bought at Radio Shack, and poring over old issues of "Elementary
Electronics" trying to make sense of the tutorial series. My pride and
joy was the 20,000 ohm/volt (analog) multimeter my Dad bought for me.
I *dreaded* of One Christmas I was given a Heathkit "19-in-one"
electronics kit and spent many a happy hour trying to improve on the
But - how does a kid get involved in electronics today? You really
can't impress the parents by pulling out a tube and riding down to the
drugstore, testing it, and getting Grandma's table radio working again.
Everything is built of mystery chips with 37-digit part numbers that
were made for three weeks and will never been seen again. Everything is
potted in plastic. The gap between listening to a local AM broadcaster
on the tiny crystal earpiece from a breadboard TRF radio and the typical
consumer electronics is now so huge that it would be hard, I think, for
even an intelligent and motivated child to make the leap between them.
And I can't even buy the 15-volt battery for my old VOM.
I don't know what it's like to be ten nowadays, that's how old I was
when I got interested in electronics, but I think some of the issue
is that we are much older, and can no longer imagine being young.
Back then, 1970, there wasn't much in the way of electronics around
the house. I didn't lust after much of it, I simply was interested
in science, and somehow electronics became interesting to me. Over all
these years, I've never built much in the way of finished projects, but
have spent lots of time breadboarding things and trying things out. I learned
a lot about the world using electronics to learn about learning, and as
a vantage point to view the world. If nothing else, I don't have the
fear of electronics that many people do have, and certainly some simple
repair things that most people wouldn't even think of tackling are just
automatic to me.
But 36 years later, my interests have changed and no, electronics
isn't so appealing to me now.
But that's irrelevant, because the issue is the ten year old. I'd
like to think the same sense of accomplishment I had when I finally
built something that worked, when I finished off grade 6 likely having
a ham license (I took the test in May of 1972 as soon as the rule
here in Canada that you had to be over 15 went away, failed the code
test, retook it in June a few days before the end of school but the
results weren't back until school finished), when I was learning things
that weren't being covered in school, and when I learned the morse
code, would still apply to a ten year old today. Electronics was
never a popular hobby, and the ones who pursue it are likely less
interested in the popular. None of this has changed, even if
morse code is even less relevant today than it was in 1972, it
is still an accomplishment for someone who is still pretty young.
Babies are explorers, with pretty much everything coming to them
through experience. But once they hit school, experience becomes
secondary, while they learn to do something, rather than do something
to learn. Being ten years old is nearly infinitely older than
being Age 0, but it's still pretty early on the curve. Learning is
still a significant factor in their lives, while it's pretty easy
to push the boundaries.
I suppose some things have changed. But I also think that somehow
something else changed, so the kids stopped coming, which resulted
in a gap of few new kids coming in. So those who remain are much older,
and puzzling over how to attract kids to the hobby. And while I don't
have an answer to it, I truly do believe that it's merely a matter
of marketing rather than competition with the perceived competition
(ie the internet, CD players, video games and such). Once the focus
is on the competition, it's about competing rather than making a strong
case for the hobby.
The hobby magazines have pretty much disappeared in North America. I
don't think kids had any affect on that happening, they were part of
the readership but the readership was varied enough that it wasn't
just aimed at them. (Indeed, it can be argued that reading the hobby
magazines meant early entry into the adult world, when the rest
of the class at school was still reading "Jack & Jill" and "Highlights
for Children".) But whatever the reason for the magazines to disappear,
the result is that there's nothing much on the newsstand to lure kids
in. When I was young, much of what I learned was from the magazines, and it
was easy to get the fifty cents to get another magazine, far easier than
getting the money together to buy a book. That sort of thing is
gone. Maybe the children's libraries no longer have beginner books
But the key is to figure out how to talk to the young, how to show
your love of the hobby (especially as it was when you were ten years
old), convey the sense of wonderment and accomplishment. And only
then, and only if the kids yawn, do you know there is a real problem.