After being away from the hobby for around 5 years I am surprised by the uptake of digital modes. I wonder what this means and where it is going.
It is not that I have not used them in the past, in the early 1970s I had a Creed 7B teleprinter connected to a home brew terminal unit taking audio from a modified Pye base station on 2m. It was part of a local net and was left on standby a lot of the time. I would come home from work and find a few feet of paper on the floor. RTTY using the computer is not the same. No smell of 3in1 oil or the noise of the motors and clatter of the mechanics.
I also found WSPR to be useful to test antennas and tried a few other data modes but frankly I found them to be boring. Yes, they can establish a 2 way connection where other modes cannot but so what? It is machines talking to machines. There is no experience of making contact with a human being, no suppleties of voice or ‘fist’ in CW. Nothing to personalise the contact and gain some idea of who you are connected to.
For me radio is about connecting, communicating with another person using voice or Morse. It is about recognising that there is a human being operating the equipment, making the connection, the contact. And I mean ‘contact’ in both the human communication sense as well as the technical sense.
I fear that digital modes are being pushed hard as a way of interesting younger people in the hobby. I must ask why? Why do something in a more expensive and complicated way that can be and is done by Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram etc?
A few years back when Internet linked repeaters started I remember having a conversation with a newcomer who was excited about ‘working’ a VK via the local repeater. In fact, he worked the repeater a couple from miles from his house but was under the impression he could get DXCC and other awards easily. That is the problem, the quick and easy fix appealed but took him nowhere.
I still believe that if you show a real contact on a radio with someone in a far-off place it will be more exciting and more attractive than dangling the instant hook of digital communication. Kids do that on their phones every day, why would they bother doing it via radio?