The decline in hobby of electronics

Electronics used to be one of the greatest hobby ever. There were literally hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of people who used to play around with electronics as an avocation or part-time interest and activity.

There were at least a dozen magazines supporting this group and plenty of parts and kits suppliers to keep them happy. Kids learned electricity and electronics even when they were in school. Like I used to open up different things at home to know what was inside (mostly broken one) and my father, uncle and other helped me understand it.

As a result, when they ended up getting the bug, they ended up not only adopting electronics as a hobby, but also made it into a career. You don’t see too much of that going on anymore.

First, let me clarify what an electronic hobbyist is. I define an electronic hobbyist as someone who enjoys learning more about electronics by building, and in some cases designing, electronic devices.

What does it take to be an electronics hobbyist?

Typical hobbyist projects ranged from a few simple parts to really elaborate complete pieces of equipment like a power supply, audio amplifier, communications receiver, or photo timer. When ICs came along in the 1970s, experimenting really took off.

You could build even more elaborate devices with better performance, thanks to op amps and digital ICs. Experimenters went wild. At least 108 projects were based on the 555 IC timer. Later in the 1970s, the microprocessor came along and the personal computer kit came on the market. That set off a whole new wave of experimenting and started a whole new industry. Another batch of magazines like Byte, Interface Age, Kilobaud, Creative Computing and a few others offered lots of projects to build and ushered in a whole new dimension…software and programming.. Many electronic hobbyists became computer hobbyists.

In short, electronic hobbyists built things either from scratch, from plans, or a kit. They made accessories, gadgets, toys, and all sorts of other entertaining things. It was a satisfying process to see what you made actually work or solve some useful problem. And you learned a little more each time you did it.

So what happened to all that?

The hobbyist has not disappeared entirely. But the ranks have decreased considerably. I suspect that today there are probably less than a quarter of the hobbyists there used to be. My best guess is that the hobby era peaked sometime in the 1980s.

Most of the magazines died out by the early 1990s;—the same time most of the kit companies started to fade away. The demise of those businesses directly affected the number of current and future hobbyists and engineers.

The number one reason

Why the electronic hobbyist has declined in number is…the integrated circuit. If you are not buying this, consider the following. In the beginning, ICs made electronics hobby fun and productive. You could build ever larger and more complex things without extensive knowledge. But ICs, on their way to fulfilling Moore’s law over the years, got smaller in size (but with larger transistor counts).

Digital speeds increased from a few MHz to over hundreds of MHz and today many GHz. Analog circuits also got higher performance and operated at higher frequencies. Packages got smaller and the ICs with pins for through-hole PC boards (PCBs) have evaporated. Surface mount ICs are the norm today, as are surface mount discrete that are about the size of a piece of rice.

Have you ever tried to breadboard a circuit or build a project with surface mount parts? Fun isn’t it? You need tweezers, a magnifying glass, and a tiny heat-controlled soldering iron. And with pin spacings of a mm or less, it is easy to short out a few pins or miss a pin entirely. And how do you solder a ball grid array IC? Yes, there are ways to breadboard with these parts.

Also another reason I can think of is that there are things in; modern appliance’s circuits which are not available in the market easily. China has an Important role to play in this game as China; is developing more and more electronics in SMD and customized ICs. It has become hard for people at home to find bug or understand the working of other components in the circuits.

But still you should have an hobby of electronics as it is fun and you can create anything in your mind with help of electronics. Use the SMD parts with there dip extensions or make a PCB layout and order it online. The technology has made it easy for us to carry out with our electronics hobby. But hard to start and find interest.


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