What's with the "hobbyist" mindset?

Over the years, I’ve noticed a distinct mindset among people who engage in hobbies in more than a casual fashion. This mindset is one of extreme concern about minutiae and esoteric points of performance/aesthetics/etc… when it comes to their hobby. Medieval monks debating how many angels would fit on a pinhead don’t have anything on these folks in terms of debating things that are unknowable and/or have no bearing on the real world. Oh… and let’s not forget bashing anything mass-market simply because it’s commonly available and not super-awesome.

Case in point: There’s a message board for automotive enthusiasts that I sometimes read, and it’s mostly centered around motor oil and automotive fluids. These guys on there debate the finer points of oil filters and used oil analysis, and the merits of a 0.2 increase in any number of esoteric oil properties, and are amazingly dismissive and haughty about why THEIR chosen oils and decisions are better, and how all the automotive engineers that design the vehicles are making their recommendations based on cost, and how they, some numbskull who read some shit on the internet knows better. Amateur astronomers do stupid stuff like say “I don’t recommend buying a scope that costs less than $400 for beginners”.

That’s not the only place; video gamers will get totally stupid about the merits of this keyboard, or that video card, etc… when the difference between 58 and 60 FPS is indiscernable. Cyclists will get idiotic about the merits of various lightweight parts, when simply taking a dump before a ride will drop your weight by more than 2 dozen lightweight water bottles or esoteric spokes. Foodies/amateur cooks and liquor connoisseurs/amateur mixologists are the worst; THEY only drink X brand liquor, and other brands are mashed in a dumpster and distilled in a toilet. Or anything other than special cheese made by a 120 year old blind Italian farmer from his 25 year old cow and salted with gypsy tears is mass market crap that they wouldn’t deign to eat.

I’m sure we can all come up with more examples of that kind of thing… but what I want to know is where that attitude comes from? I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a few hobbies that don’t have that attitude much- home brewing is one, but it seems like a lot of others are merely a way for people to be elitist and condescending, and I don’t understand it.

The stakes are so small, that only oversized passion will do.

Orbiting a point of interest often leads to a spiral down the black hole at its center.

I’ve been part of several hobbyist communities, and there are ALWAYS those who absolutely cannot find something too small to obsess over. Add them together - the oil testers, the tire freaks, the chip tuners, the audio nuts - and you end up with a club/meeting/forum full of people shrieking BUT GODDAMMIT SEALED WIRE NUTS ARE THE ONLY POSSIBLE SOLUTION! and so forth.

Join. Participate. Hang with the reasonable crowd. Ignore the obsessed.

The general desire some humans have to be the best? Maybe we can’t excel at work and other things so we drive ourselves in our pastimes. You see that even here among posters - those few who always have to be right in debates or get the last word in every thread about a certain topic. Some people just have to be top of the food chain.

As I’ve admitted here before, I do Living History/Re-enactments; French and Indian War in particular. Most people are satisfied with visiting historic places; I want to live there a day or two here and there. Most people who do what I do are satisfied with some general research and basic gear - clothing and maybe a few “add-ons”. Me? I go all the way into basically experimental archeology; trying to figure out just how things were done and why. Making a birch bark canoe by hand, making flint tools “Indian style”, trying to live as people did 250 years ago with just the things archeology (physical and written records) shows they had. And sometimes doing it for a week or even a month at a time.

Why? Somewhere deep inside this 60 year old body is a historian that followed a twisted path. I never studied it really and while I have earned a fair amount of money at it its never been my “real job”. But I have developed a following both in public and academic circles and that makes my ego feel pretty good sometimes.

I am basically a competitive person; I raced motorcycles, played club level rugby, and other things like that at various points in my life. So somewhere in my DNA is some cell that has STRIVE written all over it. If I got into stamp collecting, I would be the guy with 187 albums filling an entire room. If I was into woodworking I would have the garage that looked like a professional carpentry shop. But my thing is history. So I make my own needles so I can hand-sew my own shirts. And yes; I do have plans to weave cloth some day. It’s just how I am.

The people who don’t obsess over every detail won’t be as visible as those who do.

“That doesn’t really matter.” takes up a lot less space and time and attracts a lot less attention than:

“It’s obvious to anyone who really knows what they are talking about that the 638-d is superior to the 638-e in all the ways that matter. Better throughput, increased volumetrics, shinier, you name it. And here’s a bunch of links that agree with me, half of them forum posts by myself in other places.”

“You’re a doofus. Sure the volumetrics increase, but when you take that into account in an adjusted throughput balance evaluation, the real throughput decreases by a factor of times 2.5%, and shinier is actually worse. Your links suck, and I didn’t read them, but here are a bunch of mine.”

“I’m a doofus? You’re a doofus! …”

And so on for five pages and in ten threads.

“There’s no measurable difference.” will just drown and you get a skewed impression on how large a part of the community cares and how much they care.

A slight diversion, but a variation of this plagues “help” forums as well. I used to get good answers and invaluable help from various automotive, DIY, repair and similar forums. I can’t remember the last time I got a reply worth reading.

If you post a short message (“My washer isn’t draining all the way on one load out of five”) you get endless blather about obvious fixes and a sprinkling of really insistent esoteric suggestions (“Check your household voltage and complain to your power company!”) You have to patiently wade through “Yes, I checked the drain hose” “Yes, I took the drain pump out and made sure it was clear” “Yes, I made sure the unit was plugged in” - etc. and the conversation often cycles through the list several times, with some idiot coming in on post #100 to insist it must be something already discussed and discarded fifty posts earlier.

Or - you write a long post listing the exact symptoms and everything you’ve done to try and fix it, including part numbers and voltage readings and the like. And you get no response, or a snarky, “Write a novel next time” or such.

Real situation for me, by the way. If anyone can figure out why a Samsung front-loader that’s been completely rebuilt and everything checked refuses to drain about every fifth load… useful answers appreciated. I sure ain’t getting them from the self-important hobby/DIYer/techspert boards…

My conclusion is pretty general: the net has become a place where everyone gets to speak, and those who love the sound of their own typing have discovered this, and no one’s really listening any more. So let’s get down and dirty and write five thousand words about how the 246E is a complete devolution from the 246B, eh?

As Kopek stated some people are driven to go to extremes and some people are not and the former may cause them to become dismissive.

Personally I am very quantitatively focused and as such I am inclined towards things like RPGs where the best is the best. When it is purely subjective you move to aggregates. You may like Happy Gilmore more than The Godfather, but as far as humanity is concerned, one is clearly the superior film. As for products I’m inclined to solicit all those reviews from aficionados. I want to know *which * pair of jeans or boots to buy for $400 or why this particular safety razor is $160. I, and many others, are firm believers in a buy premium, cry once mentality.

Maybe, maybe not, but they beat wired seal nuts. The seals HATE that!

Online message boards are great for finding people with similar interests, but they also bear part of the blame for this issue: a lot of the attitude, I think, comes from the relative anonymity that online communities provide. When writing directly to someone else on a message board, people sometimes communicate using language and attitudes that they’d never dare use if they were standing face-to-face with each other.

Read an exchange sometime between two passionate hobbyists, and try to imagine that conversation happening if they were standing next to each other – it’s not very likely that their attitudes would make it over to the real world. I’m not saying that people don’t argue and act dismissively in real life, but it happens a lot more often when those two people are separated by thousands of miles and sheltered by the anonymity of their respective IP addresses.

Hobbies allow you obsess about something harmlessly. And any hobbyist can gain world class expertise in a niche. My own electronics hobby as a teenager led me into a career.

I really like that…that’s the way I’m into several interests. I like to understand the original performance and craftsmanship of an item that was new 75-100 years ago just to experience a little bit of that world. But I won’t nit-pick other’s efforts unless they’re destroying something of value or building something fundamentally unsafe.

I had one of my best supervisors describe this as “a few big dogs fighting over a few little bones” as my employer was running low on money and upper managers conflicted over what expenses they would and would not authorize. Perhaps a hobby forum is the only way these people can feel like a “big dog”. I especially see this from people working in a technician role or without formal credentials who probably DO know more than their boss but can’t use that knowledge to advance their career.

I love this statement. So much that I’m tucking this quote away in the back of my mind and, while it may take 20 years, I can’t wait for the day that I’ll use it!

Hobbyists do tend to go a bit nuts. I’ve mentioned building my koi pond and my wife is always telling me to join clubs and ask other owners for tips and advice. My problem is that all of these people suffer from the OP’s complaint. There is no question you can ask that won’t get three opinions and devolve into a fist fight, and some of the answers are so contradictory, you wonder how it’s even possible.

Like “Should I feed my fish tofu?” Which I didn’t even know what a question until I saw it on a forum. One guys says yes - extra protein. Another says no - too little protein. One says yes - it reduces fish waste. Another says no - it increases fish waste. None of the four can agree on anything. I have a feeling that many of these fights are based on experiences that could be true for a particular setup and not for another because ponds vary so much. Size, shape, construction materials, temperature, sunlight, climate, fish types and sizes, etc.

As for why people do this… sometimes I think we’re seeing mental illness of one degree or another. It’s hard to diagnose Internet forum users, but I personally knew one obsessive hobbyist who also believed the NSA was spying on him; every door to door salesman or mail man was part of the NSA surveillance.

I’m reminded of this XKCD xkcd: Connoisseur

Sometimes you might be mistaking chatter for obsession. Web forums on specific topics might be an interested person’s only real chance to talk about something that interests them and so any bit of minutiae is open for discussion. Not because anyone is really ready to draw blood over whether the 1971 Del Monte Green Bean label looked better than the 1974 re-do, but because they just never get to talk about vintage food labels with anyone else. So any excuse to chatter about it is a good one.

This isn’t to suggest that no one is an obsessed weirdo, of course. Just that sometimes you might be reading more into it than what’s there.

I can address the thinking of amateur astronomers: If you have extreme patience, low expectations, and understand the pitfalls, yes you can surprise yourself with how much of the heavens you can explore with a toy store telescope. The tripod is not rigid, the optics are poor, the end result is totally frustrating. But, if you see it as a labor of love and couldn’t afford much, you learn to appreciate what you have. I spent countless hours with telescopes that ranged from $50 to $250. And, I loved every minute of it. Most people do not have the patience and the skill to deal with this. In short, the advice is not a snobbish thing. It is the truth. OTOH, more expensive scopes can prove equally frustrating since most people expect planetarium-quality images. And, the better scopes are heavy. You will wonder why you paid $500-$1000 or more and soon quit the hobby. I think it is best to pay your dues with a small scope and really learn the night sky before bellying up the bar to roll out some wads of cash.

Jinx hit the nail on the head about the astronomy thing. Yeah, you can get by with significantly less than $400 give or take to start out. But you ain’t gonna see much. At about the $400 dollar mark is where you can get a decent sized scope where what you can see goes from a bit to a lot.

And actually astronomy gear is kinda the exception to price snobbery many other hobbies seem afflicted with. For the most part, the stuff that is significantly more expensive is ACTUALLY significantly better. And we aren’t talking about the die hard experts that can tell the difference kinda scenario. Anybody that isn’t a freshly minted newbie can see that the 500 dollar eyepiece blows the socks off the 50 dollar one and is obviously better than the 200 dollar one.

As someone once famously quipped…“Never look through an eyepiece you can’t afford”.

Not to say there isn’t snobbery and obsession in the hobby, but the idea you kinda need a minimum investment to get any traction/interest in the hobby is not without foundation.

I know… it’s more that I keep reading articles and posts that are people saying things like “My 6 year old son really likes space things, and wants a telescope. What should I get him?” And then a series of nimrods go out and suggest no less than a 6" aperture telescope and $50 or more eyepieces. Which is probably fine advice for an adult looking to take up the hobby, but absurd and ridiculous overkill for a child who mostly wants to look at the moon, Saturn’s rings and other stuff that’s easily visible in sub-90mm aperture scopes.

And Jophiel, it’s totally obsession. On the car board I’m talking about, they get really weird about the exact specs of the oil/grease/transmission fluid, etc… as if having a HT/HS value of 2.7 is going to make your car turn into a beater instantly, while having a 2.8 will allow you to drive it like Mario Andretti with no fear of any sort of engine wear whatsoever. In general, it’s things that to adequately prove, you’d have to have tightly controlled tests run on fleets of vehicles over a fairly long period, and hopefully tease some statistics out about which of Purolator or Fram oil filters is clearly better, and if so, is it even better in a practical way, meaning that if it turns out that cars with Fram filters last 150 miles longer on average than Purolator over a total average vehicle mileage of 300,000 miles, it’s not a practical difference.

Hobbyist chatter is discussing the relative merits of something like one lens over the other for photography enthusiasts. The obsession I’m talking about is getting weird about theoretical resolving power and minute chromatic abberations and then using that knowledge to proclaim one CLEARLY better than the other.

I just get tired of seeing the threads where someone comes in and says something like “What fast lens should I get for my trip?” and seeing some combination of useless non-answers that sort of, but not really answer the question, or almost flame-wars centered around nitpickery that the person asking the question probably doesn’t even understand.

This is true. But still, hobbyist astronomers have a very different mindset from research astronomers. I know because I’m both.

In my day job designing astronomical instruments for NASA missions, we deal with clearly defined objectives and requirements. My job is to come up with something good enough to do the job - and determine how good is “good enough”, how we know we’ve met that goal, etc.

Privately, I don’t want a telescope that’s good enough. I want the best. I’d pore over reviews and specs, and if I decide another telescope is better than the one I own, I would sell mine and get the other one - even if my current one is adequate.

Guilty as charged here. I am just comming off of my longest single run on a hobby of more than 20 years. I have always had one or more things going that I have been passionate about. My most recent run was building primitive archery bows, I was obsessed with identifying and dealing with every possible source of energy loss. I am currently obsessed with writng a novel about a mass collaboration of social media obsessed hobbyists.

  I believe there is a lot going on with many of the hobbyists. Years ago I heard a quote that stuck with me. I heard this on a talk radio show. The Dr said: " When we fall in love we actually fall in love with the way we feel about ourselves when we are with that other person"  I believe that you could substitute hobby and social network for that other person and you would have the same dynamics working. We really like the idea of being accepted and validated. As each stage of bonding with the network hits a plateau we find we need to kick it up a notch to stay in the loop. If and when it stagnates for whatever reason be it time constraints, money or skill level we grow bored and move on to something else.