Astronomy is a hobby for old people, mostly men. It also is a hobby for people with time and disposable income, but that is a separate rant. The median age of an amateur astronomer given by people in marketing is 54. Visual astronomers, like me, are a decade older. And we are dying off. The number of people buying high quality large visual telescopes is numbered in the hundreds per year. AstroPhysics, one such vendor sells under 200 telescopes a year most going to research universities. Stellarvue, another company of high quality gear, sold about 300 telescopes last year. The number of companies building these devices are in the single digits. Two companies building large Dobsonians style telescopes for visual observing see the writing on the wall, took their final orders and are closing forever. The three best mirror makers are no longer taking orders for visual mirrors, focusing instead on equipment for astrophotography and university research institutions as they upgrade decades-old telescopes. Looking at what Celestron offers and has in stock now, you have gear aimed at the instragram astrophoto community (median age 40) and shit-tier beginner garbage.
The pandemic ripped a massive hole in the astronomy community. So many older people either died or won't go to club events or star parties due to the Pandemic risks. We are a tightly knit community of weird people with a weird hobby and any loss of one of us is a massive loss of talent, skill, and knowledge. There is about to be a flood of good, higher end, visual astronomy gear on the market, but no buyers. Visual astronomy is hard, and very few people any more want a hard hobby. In the next few years there is going to be some high end gear that ends up donated to the dying astronomy clubs where it will collect dust until it is thrown out because it is taking up space. I saved one such device, rescued from an estate sale from a man I never met but talked to for years online. The 'scope is in my car outside this library I am using for wifi. I have a pad for it, and once lumber is not worth more by weight than platinum I intend to build a home for the telescope. I need to buy a few car batteries on the way home now that I think about it so I can power my new gear.
I know the argument incoming. But space is popular. No, it is not. Useless celebrity cunts like Neil Tyson are popular. I've met him before he was THE Neil DeGrasse Tyson back at TAM6... geezus that was only 8 years ago? He was a guy passionate about something he was WAY down the rabbit hole of knowledge and wanted to grab you and scream in your face "THIS IS AWESOME!" Now, he sits on fucking twitter all day. He's gone off the plot, just like every other famous person. The guy behind the "Bad Astronomy" blog/page/books got famous and then became too good for us mortals more than a decade ago as well. People do not like space, they lice celebrity. People like Hubble images. People like hurricane warnings and weather reports but do not understand where those come from. The less said about Elon Musk the better. They don't like SPACE as an industry or technology. Astronaut talks do not sell tickets. The most popular astronomy podcasts get 10-15K views if they are popular; talk about the boring stuff like doing the work and your talk may hit 2K views/listens. A child unboxing toys, to put this number in perspective, gets 100K views a video and makes 10 million USD a year. One of the younger people with a youtube channel gets 30K views... if he talks about his dog and then shows a pretty image at the end of the video. People do not like space, they don't want to put in the work to be good at a hobby, all these people want to do is post results. And stopping part two of the argument here, its not just college kids. The number of older "adults" throwing tantrums that they have to work at something to get good at is makes me glad that my nearest neighbor is 6 miles away.
The last star party I helped run and organize ran afoul of the local college social media religious fanatics because we did not have "women friendly" facilities. At a primitive campground in a national park with no electric, running water or cell service. A place chosen for its off-grid location and lack of lights, electricity, and its isolation from even aircraft overflights. This was a shock to the dozen or so women astronomers that had been attending the event for a decade, the wives that tagged along for the peace and quiet and the two wives of the organizers running the organization since the 80's. We lost the financial and in-kind support from the local college because the lack of conveniences was "exclusionary." When the college pulled out, we lost the park service assistance with permits and the other hundred little things you need assistance with to make an event like this work. The state agency that had been helping us with portable toilets, traffic control, signage etc stopped returning our calls. From what we were able to gather, there was some popularity on social media for astrophotos in 2018-2019 and the group that wanted to participate were pissed they could not upload images to their websites or charge their phones and equipment. They complained to university officials and the state park service about us. There was a demand that we lug in a generator and build showers. The star party no longer exists; the two older couples all but said "fuck this shit" and noped out. They blame the pandemic, but the real reason is that none of the older volunteers feel like dealing with this crap, a lot of work for ungrateful people, no money and all the joy having been sucked out.
I got forced back online to buy gear. Since I am online, I reached out to some people I know in multiple clubs across the country. People bought telescopes during the pandemic, saw the hobby is hard, and dumped that gear on whatever organization showed up when someone googled "local astronomy group." The clubs that saw massive growth in numbers of members are now struggling with the loss of the clubs culture as people that have been around for years are pushed out by the flood of new people. I hope they ride the wave, get tons of new blood, volunteers and cash, but I've seen this before and these types of clubs will rarely last once the old timer volunteers are gone. The death knell of any niche hobby is popularity. If you are into a small hobby with a close community, pray to your deity of choice you never get noticed or popular. Its a shame because with the internet, the 10 people in Idaho into blacksmithing can get together virtually and learn from each other. They can share tips about gear, technique and design, and get better with effort and passion for something they enjoy. Then some big social media celebrity gets a following of people, notices you guys doing your own thing and seemingly enjoying yourselves and now your hobby is shit and you cannot buy equipment, your forums are flooded with new people without a clue drowning out the people with knowledge and those 10 original people all slip away offline and won't talk about their achievents and passions due to the connection with the influx of toxic shit and idiots. This story may be anecdotal fiction, or it may be a second hand account from the guy that moved my trailer to the property and helped me tie it down. Go find a knitting group that has been around 10 or more years if you think this is only a dude-bro issue. Because damn, those poor people got fucked over, hard, by the newcomers with their "bitch and stitch" stores and runs on yarn, thread, canvas and equipment. Back before I moved, a lady into video games and knitting told us all how she was kicked out of her knitting group because her being a 60 year old woman with grandkids and a husband of 40ish years made some of the new people uncomfortable. (The new people kicked her and her two "grandma" friends out of the facebook group and changed the venue on her) I watched cooking groups implode in real time due to the popularity of the terrible cooking channels and youtube famous "chefs." Giant 1000 people LAN parties died the same way, popularity of video games killed them and nobody will volunteer to run them any more. The new people that think they can get famous gaming do nothing but whine and stir shit swamping out the old timers; the culture that made these events fun died.
This rant is not just about a hobby I love dying (in this case literally). Its an old man rant on the state of the world and how social media is evil. Fame is a moral evil and social media feeds off its pursuit. Fame is the death of honor and dignity. Nobody chasing fame is a decent human being in my opinion. The character needed to dig in and get good at something, that mentality of put in the work with a plan to get good at something, that drive, that passion, that "This is fun and I don't give a shit who else cares" attitude is fading. Post a stupid video that hits the right algorithm on social media and the next thing you know you are being flown to be on a talk show and now can sponsor some crap product and cash out for simply existing. I've heard kids say they want to be youtubers, not realizing that those famous people work 100 hour weeks and the only reason they got famous is pure stupid chance. Tell them the work that goes into making a video worth watching, and you can see their face try to process a foreign concept for the first time. Social media is a moral evil that gives the unaware the idea that fame is good and easy. The few good parts of fame are shared and normalized; the bad, the struggles, the work is shoved into a memory hole because it only got three upvotes or likes. Everything worth doing has been converted into an instant gratification treadmill and that is why social media is terrible.
I am not sure anymore if the concept of "happy" exists. I think this idea is something we have a faith-like dedication to, to our detriment as a society. There is an emotion attached to accomplishment, not quite self-esteem, but something along those lines. You want to find a "happy" kid in a school? Find the kid that busted his ass to get a good grade on a test and ask him how he did it. Watch their face light us as they talk about the work they did. Is that happiness? Or is it something else? Find the kid that just completed his first skateboard trick. Find the kid that just built her first 3-D printed model from scratch. Find the guys in whatever shop class still exists and ask them about the stuff they are building. Find the kid that just nailed a guitar riff after 20 hours of trying. Find someone that just baked their first sourdough that does not suck from scratch. Those people will light up like a commercial parking lot if you get them talking about what it took to be successful. Is that "happy?" Or is it something else? Excluding the people with medical issues that need help, I think one of the reasons so many people are down, depressed and unfulfilled is because people are not DOING anything any more. Watching a movie is not DOING something. Consuming products is not DOING something. Merely existing is not DOING.
Hobbies are dying, and go ahead and argue if you want but I've seen the sales numbers. This could just be the ramblings of an old bitter jerk that walked away from a good job to go live in BanjoStan in a 700 square foot off grid trailer to watch the world die as he prepares to dance with the Reaper. Or it could be the observations of someone that first hand saw the decline of union labor, the stagnation of wages, the destruction of the middle class, the implosion of the nuclear family, the housing crisis and rent affordability bomb, all that big picture stuff no longer serving people that need or want to work for a living. If you are working two jobs to pay rent because multi-billion dollar hedge funds are destroying house affordability, you won't have a passion project. And guess what folks, overwork and no down time are not going to make you happy if all you are doing is treading water. One thing I picked up from the pandemic is the number of people that were forced to stay home, then started feeling better. They cooked at home, they worked out a bit, they felt less stress. Now that people are going back to work, I hope they can keep any hobby they picked up and use that to get a sense of accomplishment and feel good about themselves. and it makes me happy as hell that shitty service providers like restaurants and retail are closing because they won't pay their people and treat them with respect. Out here, the local wallmart is cutting hours because even at $18/hour nobody will work for them. Better to make $15 in construction outside and not deal with screaming idiots, mentally ill church people with entitlement complexes, and a management structure that sees you as sub human.
Life is way too short to hate your situation; I'm still angry it took me this long to figure that one out.