Monday, February 15, 2021

Today in America: Birders vs. Gawkers

 Times headline:

Twitter Is Turning Birds Into Celebrities and Birders Against One Another

This turns out to be a classic internet-age debate, which is why I am writing about it:

On one side are people eager to broadcast these flying visitors on social media, which they say allows birders to catch a glimpse of species they might otherwise never see.

On the other are birders who believe that indiscriminately publicizing the locations of sensitive birds attracts hordes of gawkers, who can disturb the animals, and violates the serendipitous aspect of birding.

Bird-watching, like every other hobby, has a status hierarchy. Once upon a time rare birds like the Central Park snowy owl would only be seen by the truly dedicated. They might call a few of their friends, who would of course be other deeply dedicated birders. A group of ten or twenty would gather and share something like a mystical moment of communion with nature and each other, their reward for years of standing by frozen marshes, seeing nothing but gulls.

But now, the person who sees the bird posts its location on Twitter, and next thing you know all the birders in New York are on their way to see it; and soon after that it makes the TV news and five thousand people who never think much about birds are on their way, and the poor bird flies off in search of somewhere quieter.

There are two ways to see this. The Twitterati would probably say that the old way is elitist, snobby, and unfair. But the traditionalists would probably reply that spreading the news to everyone doesn't spread the experience or make it available to more people, but completely destroys it.

Both, I think, are right.

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