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Friday, July 17, 2009

Overexposure: When publicity is not a good thing

Sea glass is enjoying a wave of popularity, these days. A couple of decades ago, sea glass collectors were just "random scattered hobbyists" around the globe-- in recent we have become "organized." We have web sites, online communities for collectors and artists, we have an "Association," we even have "conventions." Frankly? I think it's wonderful! It doesn't get much better than when we can share and enjoy something with like-kind spirits.

However, with "organization" and "popularity" also come the troubles of "exposure," along with the dangers of OVER-exposure. It's difficult to pass a "value judgment" on this... but I liken it a bit to the process of a "small town" growing into a "city." Regardless of whether you think of it as GOOD or BAD, the fact remains that without some form of "careful management," you suddenly have traffic jams, urban sprawl; strip malls and the local hardware store is replaced with a Wal-Mart supercenter.

An article ran in the Seattle Times back in early May, and it provided a lot of exposure to sea glass. On the surface, a good thing, but unfortunately the article also gave pretty much "perfect directions" to a remote stretch of beach previously only known to a limited number of hardy enthusiasts.... willing to trudge 3-4 miles across gravel and rocks to get there. How things have changed. On Memorial Day, I counted ONE HUNDRED people on a stretch of beach where I used to see a single person, every few hours. That is, 100 people before I simply gave up and went home. Over July 4th weekend, a similar scenario... I didn't even get on the beach, after seeing how many cars were in the parking lot (and up the adjacent street).

The sad thing is that many of these folks were not "beach combing." They were "exhibit A" of the ugly trait of "human greed." They were there with buckets and rakes and shovels and coolers and "manpower," like they were trying to run a "strip mining" operation on the beach. They'd hike in with a cooler of soda and beer, and then hike out, using the cooler as a storage container.

I take a small amount of comfort in knowing that I was not the one who told the journalist where I usually beach comb. I take less comfort in carrying out a trash bag full of empty beer bottles and cans that littered the beach, a few days later.

Things come and go, in life-- and "a secret" stops being "a secret" when EVERYone knows about it. A friend (online) and fellow beach comber (and jewelry artist) stays pretty philosophical about it... pointing to the impermanence of things. She depends on sea glass to make her jewelry, with which the makes her living... and I admire her ability to stay neutral in the face of possibly using the primary raw material for her livelihood.

I've been around "collectible" hobbies most of my life, and I have seen the aftereffects of overexposure. The problem isn't about whether "people make money," it's about the level of overall enjoyment people derive from the hobby. Thousands flocked to stamp collecting when someone pointed out that stamps were "a good investments." But when it turned out the "big deal" was no longer there when everybody was involved, the newcomers left in disgust. However, during the "chaos years" many old-timers also left in disgust, when their once peaceful hobby had suddenly become chaotic and very expensive. The net result was that overexposure shrank the hobby, in the longer term..

And THAT is what worries me, when I look at sea glass collecting and its growing popularity.

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1960 vintage Danish national now living in the Pacific Northwest... active in the global HSP community; active beach comber and sea glass collector; lifetime collector of postage stamps from Scandinavia; writer and consultant, primarily to the metaphysics and self-help industries, writer at OM Times magazine; artist who doodles on rocks; eBay & Etsy entrepreneur and studio and production assistant at Radio Nahmaste.

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