Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Telescopes as a Measure of Maturity?

Whilst researching some small telescope designs (an obsession of mine, mind you), I keep coming up with a trend on Google that actually bothers me; too often, it seems, online retailers refer to small telescopes as "children's". This doesn't seem to apply to many of the better made brands (Orion, Meade, Celestron) but to off brands, bordering on "department store" quality (which can vary wildly; the term is at best a misnomer). Some of these off brands, though, are actually made by the same companies (almost all of which are located in China) that make similar instruments for the big names. Just a simple comparison of some of these "children's" models reveals their similarities to their better named kin.
That's the crux of a bigger problem. Our society has unusual views of hobbies that are of the scientific bent, as they are almost always seen as the realm of young people. Admittedly, there was a time in my youth when many, if not most, of my friends had hobbies such as electronics, bird watching, model rocketry and yes astronomy, but today, these hobbies seem quaint. Young people today, it seems, are more interested in computer games, music (nothing wrong with that, admittedly) and sports (again, not necessarily bad) than more intellectual pursuits. Hobbies that lean towards the educational are looked down upon, if not derided, in popular society. The outcast, the loner, is often times portrayed as having hobbies like that; the so-called "nerd". Younger children are many times persuaded into these hobbies to help them learn (given today’s amount of homework, though, I wonder how they can find time), but by the time they become teenagers, the risk of being teased (or worse, outcast) makes them put these things aside.
By labeling these smaller telescopes as "children's", could it be that we are implying that they will best be enjoyed by youngsters or nerdy teenagers? Talk about a marketing strategy that is bound to fail. If these retailers would take the time to examine these products a bit more thoroughly they might find that labeling them as something bordering on "toys" is a bad tactic. It certainly seems to imply a real lack of understanding about the subject, if not a severe lack of interest.

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