This is a hobby that's gone on for over a century who's story involves large interest groups, including the US Navy, trying to repeatedly kill it, the progression of the technical craft, and a lot of people doing something simply for the love of it.
For me? There are a lot of echoes of the Internet in amateur radio's overall story. Yet, unlike the internet, Ham Radio feels both like it is in decline, and at the same time that it has found the niche that most suits it. Case in point being the advent of digital modes squeezing more information density into less space, or the use of newer platforms to make gear that fits in smaller spaces, or even just using the internet to share information as opposed to monthly or quarterly magazines one had to pay to get access to.
Ham Radio is far from dead. It's simply continuing on doing its own thing.
Here is my part in the long story.
A look at the Me from Twenty Five Years Ago
In the mid 90's my school had (re)started a ham radio club. This was of interest to me both because I already had a facination with computers and the then-new internet.
While getting my no-code technician license, and getting a ham license without learning morse then was a novelty, was easy. Learning code? The tapes? Drills? None of it stuck. Now apps exist that I'm slowly, far too slowly by my reckoning, making progress on. It just goes in one ear and out the other. At this point it's not needed in the strictest sense as code requirements in general have been done away with, and there are ways to just have a computer do the 'heavy' lifting of coding and decoding. For me, though, it represents a sort of unkillable white whale that swims out in the black that I just can't seem to catch and it drives me mad that I'd never been able to wrap my head around.
Beyond morse? I remember having fun with the little hand held they loaned out. See, my school was residential and in a fairly densely populated area. So there were plenty of repeaters to make that little gizmo that gets at best and most optimistically three to five miles (roughly eight to thirteenish kilometers I think) get anywhere from twenty to fifty miles if not far further. It was a nice way for someone with few social skills and no real peer group to feel like 'Ahh yes I have found My People.'
THe good times though? They don't last. The loan period for the little handheld ended, and I remember sitting down with my folks and even something that relatively inexpensive as radio gear went wasn't in the cards, much less the real nice desk bound rigs that could pump out fifty or so watts on its own and was mean to be paired with larger antenna that you'd mount to a building or mast or what-have-you. Plus, as I reflected then as I do now, there just isn't the space to dedicate to somewhere quiet, and the idea of just puttering around 'locally' has never appealed to me. Combine both of these with the then meteoric crash in computer prices and The Internet looming large.
I really am considering picking the hobby back up, as advances in technology allow for a far greater portability for HF bands, allowing for people to go to a nice park or hiking area to string up a temporary antenna and spend the afternoon working hundreds if not thousands of miles on a few watts. Plus pairing a handheld with your phone opens up some interesting posibilities for digital modes.
For me, unfortunately, I just don't feel that same magic anymore.
The craft has its uses, not just for those cosplaying for and praying for the day when things go wrong, but also for the fun of it. Same reason I've joined a pubnix/tilde server. I could do what the world does and happily facebook, or even have a wordpress or blogger account but no. That doesn't.
Unfortunately, ham only appeals to me in the sense that it isn't dead, and the theoretical that is well outside of my capability and price range. The low end has gotten phenominally cheap, but I genuinely don't want to be 'stuck' wit ha handheld, and the higher end honestly still hasn't come down to what I would say is a reasonable much less justifiable price.