Disturbing the Force

Smartphones keep getting bigger. Out of the noise about the rising popularity of phablets, one notable observation bubbled to the surface, and that by tech pundit and radio amateur Leo Laporte, W6TWT. Laporte likes the large phones and when chided that it would appear he was holding a waffle to his head when making a telephone call he responds, “who uses a smartphone to make telephone calls anymore?”

That sounds funny, and seems to go against the grain, however, it’s spot on accurate. We very rarely use mobile devices to “talk” with someone after the manner of the ancient rotary phone. We send texts, photos, and Tweet’s. We Facetime, Hangout, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Fact is, we do almost everything with our mobile devices EXCEPT use them as wireless telephones. It’s not a telephone, it’s a personal communicator and the demand for larger screens simply reflects the rapid changes we observe in the way we communicate with each other in the 21st century.

I find that notable because there’s an oddity in the ham radio world that might be explained by it.

Contest organizers and RBN data detectives tell us that CW activity has been on the rise for nearly a decade. We can infer by the increase in QST advertising of paddles, keys, and other such devices that the sale of Morse instruments is at nearly a fever pitch. And yet, despite that, you talk to guys who live in the code trenches and they will lament the serious lack of activity. Sure, some of that may just be the imagination of old men who dream of the better day that never really was, but that doesn’t negate the many credible observations that casual CW use, especially rag chewing, is getting harder to come by.

So what’s really happening?

Hard to say for certain but there is one possibility that would explain the observed rise and fall, at the same time, of CW. It is possible that the way we communicate in the new age has changed from the way we used to do it. The efficacy of CW is legendary and highly advantageous in a contest or when chasing DX. It’s just possible that we’re using CW more for short, rapid exchanges of information — and less for casual operation.

This would explain why the RBN is telling us one thing (way more CW activity) while the good old boys who do nothing but pound the brass tell us something different (CW is dying). Both are right, and wrong. (I told you it was an oddity).

It also explains why way back in our long ago a spiral bound ARRL logbook would last an entire year or more while these days, many of the brethren are putting 2,000 Q’s in the log over a good weekend.

Short, rapid fire CW exchanges = text messaging. Get used to it. Besides, who needs to be loquacious in the 21st century?

(But if you really want to chew the rag using CW, meet me on 7.120 and we’ll do it 20th century style!)


Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: cw, ideas

Jeff Davis, KE9V, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Indiana, USA.

One Response to “Disturbing the Force”

  • Marty AG3EK:

    If I had an overly large phone/phablet (which I probably won’t any time soon since I really prefer using it one handed except for typing and then I use the speech-to-text whenever possible) I would use a bluetooth earpiece for making phone calls instead of putting the waffle up to my head.

    I had assumed the increase in CW use was due to the ease with which we can get our computers to do all the ditting and dahhing (in both directions) for us. However, your comment about all the keyers and paddles being sold would indicate that people are actually getting into manual keying instead of automated.

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