Date: 10/31/18 2:08 pm
From: W. Douglas Robinson <w.douglas.robinson...>
Subject: [obol] eBorg #2
First off, there cannot be an eBorg #2. In Borg, we are one. There is no other.

I like these discussions because they reveal conundrums others face when deciding how to spend their free time.

Taking time to organize data is a commitment, if you want to do it well. Many people who enjoy birding want to spend their free time outside, not managing data. That’s why the eBird team built a useful smartphone app.

Many people who have been birding and keeping notes since the last millennium, before eBird launched, look at their pile of notebooks and conclude entering their data is an impossibly big task. They feel overwhelmed. They give up and find ways to convince themselves that giving up is ok.

I say giving up is ok, although very sad, because whether you like it or not, chances are less than 1 in 7 billion, going on 8 billion soon, that someone is going to take the time to sift through your notes after your atoms find something else they would rather spend their time doing. Why? Because eBird now has 31 million checklists in it, stuffing itself with more at an accelerating rate. Chances are pretty good your old lists will not be missed all that much among the tens of millions, in the big scheme of things. Yet, you are probably the only one who has notes from a particular place on a particular date in history; it is possible that one of those dates has disproportionate value to someone. But, realistically, the probability is low. If you want to give up, then just give up if it makes you happy to do so.

What is not so happy to me is when people look back at their giant pile of scribbles and conclude that, because said pile is gigantic, I cannot enter any of my observations ever, including those I make today or tomorrow. That is, indeed, very sad logic.

Old dogs do learn new tricks, as Tom Crabtree pointed out. People look at me and see the pile of Oregon data I have loaded into eBird. They forget that I had 30 plus years of birding life pre-eBird, like several folks on this list. I learned new tricks. I don’t have much pre-eBird data to share because that’s not how I was taught. No one counted all birds each day or at each site when I was growing up. Only on special days for special projects did we do such things. I will not re-trace old ground here making a case for the value of good bird data to society, or for conservation of birds, and of all the missed opportunities that my cohort, and every one before mine, created. Jay did some of that. We have had these discussions often on OBOL (and they are fortunately decidedly less rancorous now; progress!).

I will say, however, that an argument of the human aspect of birding keeps coming up, using it as a way to justify the value of simply birding and not worrying about characterizing and archiving the experience. Fellowship is certainly a great value of birding. But let us not lose sight of the fact that we live during times when human population size is lower than it will probably be for a long time into the future, when the Earth is cooler than it is likely to be for a rather long time, when Oregon still has a wonderful diversity of habitat varying from intensely used by humans to rarely impacted directly, and when we actually have a decent notion of how dynamic our planet and its conditions for life are. For nearly all of human history most of us have been so focused on ourselves that we have been ridiculously ignorant of the degree of change that happens to conditions on Earth. What we see around us right now we take to be normal, and therefore boring so unworthy of note. The reality is that absolutely nothing is normal or steady or all that predictable. It is mostly an illusion built from our own narcissism and pitifully short lifespans. What that means is…what we see around us is worthy of note, valuable to future generations who will live in different times and conditions, in ways that we cannot envision at the moment. Taking a few minutes to share our hard-won deep knowledge of birds around us today with people we do not now know is, by definition, a humane and generous act.


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