Date: 10/30/18 11:38 am From: Jay Withgott <withgott...> Subject: [obol] Re: eBorg #2
Paul, I share your 40-plus years of birding. I share your 40-plus years of meticulous notes on paper, stuffed away in file cabinets. I share and appreciate your historical perspective, and I see wisdom in your prediction that eBird will one day be superseded by something else that we cannot now conceive of. And I certainly respect your right — and anyone’s — to bird and to keep bird records in whatever way they choose.
Yet all those shared perspectives lead me to a different place with regard to eBird. When I think of all the knowledge lost from civilizations past when written records were lost or destroyed or never kept, I feel heartbreak. I dearly wish we had today the knowledge of what our continent’s birdlife was like before Europeans arrived, or a better understanding of how precisely it changed as U.S. history unfolded and landscapes were modified, or fine-grain detail into bird populations before the start of CBC circles and BBS routes. I wish we did not need to rely on historians and archaeologists and paleontologists to reconstruct the past bit by bit, with most gaps left forever unfilled. That’s just my thirst for knowledge speaking, and I recognize that it’s irrational and unrealistic.
For all its flaws and shortcomings, eBird is the closest thing we’ve ever had to “comprehensive capture and storage” (I love your phrase) of data on the world’s birdlife, and like Wikipedia and other crowdsourced knowledge hubs, it has become surprisingly stronger and stronger at an impressive pace. It has evolved into a remarkable resource, and it is an exciting endeavor to be part of.
I first learned of eBird long before it was even a thing, from a friend of mine who was part of its early development — but it wasn’t until 2011 that I began using it myself. The primary reason I began eBirding was that it was the only way I knew of to put to use and preserve all those meticulous paper-note observations that otherwise would vanish from the Earth once I vanish from the Earth. I remember suggesting to Brian Sullivan at the time that eBird was all about “giving Death the finger.” I have seen far too many valued elders in the birding community — some of them mentors and friends — depart this Earth, and with them disappear their decades of records. With each death of a veteran birder, we lose a lifetime of data and a lifetime of fine-grained and nuanced knowledge. Like it or not, eBird is the best existing way of capturing these lifetimes’ worth of data so that they can live on and help inform our societal knowledge base as a whole.
That said, I feel you are correct, Paul, to question eBird’s permanence. Many of us like to believe that so many have invested so much in it by now that it is “too big to fail”, but the history of electronic media suggests otherwise. Heck, even Sears Roebuck has come to an end. In the long term, I’d place bets on most paper records outlasting most electronic records. Hacking, 100-year solar flares, threats of war, the rise of multiple internets in a new age of nationalism — there are plenty of reasons to worry about the stability of the internet and its long-term existence.
So I completely understand your reluctance, Paul, to spend even a moment of valuable time (when of course you could be out birding instead!) entering old, or new, checklists into a modern-day Library of Alexandria that may ultimately be doomed.
I choose to do so for two reasons:
(1) Because I like to think I am in fact contributing to something that comprehensively captures and stores, that educates and informs, and that stands the test of at least SOME time. It may be a Sisyphean effort, but it provides meaning and purpose, and that’s the human condition: to strive to build things, even when we know they can’t last forever. Maybe this makes me a sucker, or maybe it just makes me human, I’m not sure.
(2) Because I enjoy it. For me and I think for most other eBird users, there is a visceral enjoyment in entering one’s own observations and in learning from the observations of others. So just as you may get enjoyment out of NOT using eBird, some folks get enjoyment out of USING it. So really we’re all after the same thing.
And I suppose if each of us is enjoying the way we bird, day to day, and passing the enjoyment of birds and birding on to others in our own ways, then we are doing a good thing. Paul, you have passed such enjoyment on to as many people as ANYONE has in the Oregon birding community, so no one can ever take you to task for not doing your part!
…. I still have a sneaking suspicion, though, as Doug Robinson put it, that you may eventually find yourself (enjoyably) assimilated by the evil lure of the eBorg monster! : )
From: "Paul Sullivan" <paultsullivan@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2018 21:08:32 -0700
Years ago the native people of America kept track of birds for food and for
ritual. Their records weren't written.
Then came the explorers who "discovered" these birds for science. They wrote
journals with funny spelling. When the canoe tipped over some of their records
were lost. When they got back to Philadelphia some of them didn't get their
The Hudson's Bay company kept meticulous records for 75 years, but they were
interested in fur more than feathers.
Early white settlers kept spotty records.
Early military expeditions kept various records.
States didn't have Game Departments until we were well into the 20th century.
The federal government had the army, then the biological survey, then the US
Fish & Wildlife Service (I'm sure I missed a few in there)
Wilson, Audubon, Fuertes, Bendire, Coues and all the rest began to keep track.
We had The Oologist, Bird Lore, Audubon magazine, American Birds...
We had Oregon Birds, then OBOL, BirdNotes, eBird.
Each wave comes on with the promise of comprehensive capture and storage,
recording what birds are out there. Each supersedes [i.e. displaces, makes
outmoded, no longer used, no longer maintained] the system that has gone
before. I know this is heresy, but I believe eBird will suffer the same fate.
The next wave will have something new we haven't imagined.
I'm old now. I'm keeping my paper copies.
Date: Mon Oct 29 2018 20:52 pm
From: w.douglas.robinson AT gmail.com
Even Phil Pickering is on eBird now. Who s next? Paul Sullivan?