This month marks twenty-two years of Micscape as an online magazine for enthusiast microscopy, first published on the Internet in 1995. Back then, the Internet was still an immature infant which most people believed to be a passing fad, much like CB radio was in the UK in the 1980s. It was conceived as an alternative to microscopy club bulletins, which published articles written by its members. Unlike Amateur Astronomy, there were no real magazines at the
news stand covering the important science based hobby of Microscopy. I thought this month I would give a personal reflection about the journey from then - 1995, to now, not only my thoughts about Micscape - but its place and significance in an ever changing world.
The Internet, in its early days, was not commercial, which sadly (to me) is all it has become now, twenty-two years later. The Internet back then was filled with web sites almost all conceived and run by one or two people sharing their knowledge and fascinations. Today, the world has moved into a kind of global business/profit inspired entity which collectively proffers the pursuit of survival and financial advantage as being the main thrust of everyone's lives. We have moved away from the socially inspired
cultures of the 1990s into a 'Brave New World' of marketing, profit and loss, advertising, mobile immediacy, and 'quick-fix' people. Reflection, study, and careful absorption of information, defining truth from fiction... well, these are attributes of people in the past. Today's new cultures have becoming willing (or sleeping) slaves of their master's success in creating a dumbed-down world where people are simply just consuming units with decreasing focus on the meaning and value of life itself. As the last two
generations of human beings who either witnessed WWII or were born just after slowly pass away from this reality, so goes with them a completely different outlook on life and its meaning to the individual. Something else dies with them too: real knowledge based upon original personal exploration and experience.
Where once in the past, people could share their reflections of life and their hobbies in club bulletins or on web sites like this one, today the place of sharing is mostly on social media web sites like Facebook. The trouble is, none of these sites offer any real opportunity to amass experience of know-how to share with others. They merely provide an illusion of being connected with like-minded people who possibly share a common fascination
and interest in this thing or that. It's easier to post up a few quick videos or a bunch of photos rather than say writing a comprehensive article about a particular aspect of one's interest. And it's not just Micscape and Microscopy being affected, but every subject which involves the collection of understanding and knowledge of this thing or that.
We have moved away from a world of profound thought and endeavour and into one of flittering attention spans and human focus only on the next media-led item of sensationalism.
Old Man View
It might be said that every generation, as its members reach a certain age, become guilty of bemoaning change, and they look disapprovingly with shaking heads at the emerging world as they - the older generation - move towards gradual decline and towards departure from life. And I may well be guilty of the same. Certainly, I share many of these aspects with the ageing generations of times long past. But, and this is a big 'but' - never before has it been
so easy to shape and manipulate the minds and thoughts of the masses as is happening today. You post a picture taken at a microscope on Facebook, and behind the scenes, A.I. inspired algorithms trawl through your posting, adding to a collective database profiling you and your desires. That information about you is not being collected to assist your journey through life. It is amassed to sell you more, interrupt your existence with constant marketing, and harass you at every twist and turn so your life is no longer
your own, but is a connected entity to a huge corporate intent to meet your desire by getting money from you.
Youngsters coming of an age now are handed their first mobile phone before they have learned to walk and move as an upright human-being was designed to do. No longer are they concerned with the way they present themselves in our physical world as they are slowly consumed into a virtual one. And they simply don't know any other way of being. They have never experienced it. Their chemistry sets are ultra-safe... their toys have nothing in them which might enable
them to create an explosive substance or harm themselves. The physical tools and real items of worth are replaced by poor facsimiles as each new member of the emerging generations loses power, individuality, originality and is made blind to the physical world they occupy.
The Internet started as an idea to share and grow knowledge and has, in just 22 years, become the world's main tool for removing knowledge and genuine comprehension of the real world.
So... How Does This Affect Micscape?
If no-one is left out there who wishes to practice Microscopy as a hobby and share their observations coherently and patiently written up, is there any longer a purpose for Micscape Magazine. Indeed, where as a few years ago we received regular contributions from many enthusiast microscopists monthly, today - we receive one or two contributions per month and are left with republishing past articles from people who were of a different mind set. Look everywhere and the same
malaise exists on every topic and interest all over the Internet. One important thing to consider though is that with so many articles published here, we contain one of the world's greatest library of knowledge relating to the microscopic world as perceived and explored by late 20th and early 21st century enthusiast microscopists. And we have collected zero information about our authors and our readers personal lives in the course of achieving that.
I believe such a resource is vital both in its preservation and its continued presentation free of charge via the medium of the Internet. I also believe the Internet and the sites on it are transient and fragile and I will work over the coming years to preserve many of our contributors work into a more formal ISBN book format. The first of these is here. If I look back in history at microscopical study, I discover more knowledge, more dedication to detail in all books and resources, many by non-professionals, than in resources being published or presented today. It appears to me in many ways that as we move forwards in time, knowledge and information is not necessarily improved, or added to. It is too often forgotten and obscured by the passing of time, like a
grand castle... no longer required and long forgotten until its foundations are discovered centuries later buried under three metres of dirt.
I wonder how many times Aspirin (or its working ingredient - Salicin [acetylsalicylic acid], contained in Willow bark) has been miraculously discovered, since Hippocrates referred to the use of salicylic tea to reduce fevers around 400 BC (over 2000 years ago).
My thoughts come to a conclusion then. We are no longer an effective online magazine. We are an online library. With this in mind, like a high street retail book shop pushing certain books to the tables and shelves nearest the entry doors at particular times of the year, we must do the same. And if an enthusiast microscopist out there wishes to sit down and write up something to add to our library for posterity and for others to see, then we can store it and present that too. And our parent web site can also take new directions whilst supporting and protecting the Micscape library.
Footnote by David Walker, Micscape Editor.
My co-webmaster and valued friend Mol has eloquently summarised how the Internet has changed since the Microscopy-UK / Micscape venture was started at the near birth of the Web in 1995. I also agree with Mol's thoughts that the traditional concept of Micscape as a monthly e-zine may be changing. As he remarks, we will still offer a monthly platform for contributions whether from novice through to the experienced but Micscape's role may change to that of a more static information resource if we do not see a growth of new contributors.
As a reminder, we do offer a 'Micscape Lite' section in each issue where contributors are welcome to share material on their other interests which may be completely unrelated to macro / microscopy. This has been used by a number of contributors, including my brother Ian and I.
I'd like to use this opportunity to offer a heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed to-date, whether offering a single / few items or one of the many stalwarts who have contributed one if not two items some months for many years. Many regulars I know and greatly value as virtual friends after many emails shared. Thank you!