Social Modeling

Like most hobbies, model railroading has a burgeoning online social media presence; Facebook, for instance, is bristling with all manner of modeling groups, from the general to the laser-focused specific. And of course there are loads of other more traditional forums, some almost as old as the Internet itself.

For many years I belonged to The Railwire, what I deemed to be the best modeling forum by virtue of both the more serious attitude toward modeling among its members, as well as their irreverence, as paradoxical as that may seem. Indeed, I enjoyed this dichotomy—modelers at once self-assured and self-effacing—and found quite a few kindred spirits there, some of whom I now number among my "asshat" friends.

But social groups have something in common with nature: change is their only constant. And after a time, the forum gradually morphed into a vaguely unpleasant environment. Was it the current political climate, which is documented as having raised the anxiety level of a great many Americans? Was it because newer members were attempting to assert themselves among a core group perceived as an "elite" clique? Or was it simply the nature of such things to evolve past the vision of its founders and earliest members?

"I blame it on the rise of social media platforms. People have become accustomed to posting just about anything that crosses their minds, whether or not it's well thought out, supported by evidence, etc. And [these] platform[s] have fostered and normalized 'outrage' culture which has contributed to the general level of intolerance which is now so prominent everywhere... there are some members who treat TRW like any other social media platform, which I personally think is undesirable for a community like ours." — TRW Moderator

Whatever the reasons, I was beginning to feel increasingly at odds with the prevailing temperament, and coincidentally I'd made my exit along with two other long-standing members, all within a week or so of one another. In an effort to stem the losses, management has been busily trying to patch the dike, but sadly I feel it's for naught; new members arrive, old members leave, and that's just the way of things.

But in addition to gradual changes in membership, members themselves may likewise experience gradual changes. Skills change. Interests change. Expectations change. And, attitudes change. At one time I thrived on belonging to a group of like-minded modelers; as a "socially-challenged" person, I found it very rewarding to feel accepted somewhere. But while I'd still like to belong to such a group, that need has diminished. Part of this change is external—the subtle shifts in members' attitudes made me feel increasingly less welcome there—and part of this is internal, having become more self-confident, thus having grown beyond those original needs to belong.

I'll miss some of the interaction I've had on the forum, but I'm realistic enough to know that's now part of the past, and cannot be recaptured without feeling "forced." Besides, part of my own personal change, admittedly, is becoming much grumpier in my old age, and I tend to rub some people the wrong way. Ultimately, I've formed friendships that will outlive the forum, and that's the most valuable consequence of having been a part of it. I harbor no ill will toward anyone there; may the wind be at your backs—even if you do like DCC and sound...

—DKS, January 2020

Postscript: I've found that I'm accomplishing much more now that I'm not constantly checking in at the Wire. And to think Facebook addicts spend significantly more time online than I did. What a waste! Plus, I guess I'm not missed—no one has been begging me to return. But I did return, after a time, with some prodding from other members.

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