Finding balance in Amateur Radio
When you are absorbed in a hobby like amateur radio it's easy to lose track of the world around you. I freely admit to spending many hours on this hobby and it wasn't until I spent some effort taking stock that I discovered just how much time I spent.
The fifth clause of the Amateur's Code attempts to formalise this behaviour and I confess that it's taken me several years to find a more reasonable balance. Let's review the original 1927 published version of this clause. It reads:
The Amateur is Balanced. Radio is his hobby. He never allows it to interfere with any of the duties he owes to his home, his job, his school or his community.
It's interesting to note that in one of the oldest documents describing our community it refers to our activity as being a hobby. I'm noting this because there have been plenty of treatises written on the notion that amateur radio is a public service and not a hobby.
This clearly states that in the opinion of the General Counsel of the ARRL in 1927, Amateur Radio is a hobby and frankly, I'm fine with that.
The 2022 ARRL handbook removes the reference to hobby and words it:
The Radio Amateur is BALANCED...radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.
The ARRL website reintroduces the concept of a hobby like this:
The Radio Amateur is BALANCED...Radio is a hobby, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.
I'll note that the definition of avocation is "a hobby or minor occupation" and I'm not sure what the clause gains by using a word that I had to look up in the dictionary. Consider for a moment if your first language isn't English, why use "avocation" when "hobby" is the same thing?
The original used the phrase: "never allows it to interfere with any of the duties he owes", this puts amateur radio as a hobby at the bottom of the pecking order in the list of things you do. The 2022 version waters this down to "never interfering with duties owed", essentially elevating the hobby above some of those other duties. I don't think that this is an improvement.
I'm a fan of amateur radio, but I think that in the scheme of things it needs to take the place of a hobby, not an activity that has the ability to be prioritised over any of your other duties. If it does, where is the line? What is more important and what isn't? Should this be something that we in our code of conduct endorse? What's next, telling amateurs specifically what they should be doing? I think not.
One thing that's worth exploring is the concept of "job". A job is your occupation, tow truck driver, radio astronomer, submariner or accountant. The original meaning, going back to the 1550's is "an activity that an individual performs in exchange for a specific fee or payment".
What if you don't have a job? What if you're retired, unemployed or have some other lifestyle?
What if we replace the word "job" with "work", defined as "a physical or mental activity that is performed in order to accomplish or produce something"?
This could make the fifth clause look like this:
The Radio Amateur is BALANCED...radio is a hobby, never allowing it to interfere with any of the duties owed to home, work, school or community.
It's short and sweet, uses simple language and it covers everything that the original document was attempting to achieve, and as a bonus it no longer requires you to have a job.