I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the status ascribed to the term ‘amateur’ and how it has changed in recent years, especially since the Olympics went pro. The Wikipedia page on amateur has some interesting sections.
Astronomy, history, linguistics, and the natural sciences are among the myriad fields that have benefited from the activities of amateurs. Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel were amateur scientists who never held a position in their field of study. William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci were considered amateur artists and autodidacts in their fields of study. Radio astronomy was founded by Grote Reber, an amateur radio operator; radio itself was greatly advanced if not founded by Guglielmo Marconi, a young Italian gentleman who started out by fooling around with a coherer and a spark coil as an amateur electrician.
Amateurs are serious about the work they do, providing outstanding examples of contributions to society (Stebbins, 1992). But whereas professionals obtain licenses as their “measurability of the excellence of service provided” (Stebbins, 1992, p. 21), amateurs break taboos by loving their work. From here, it can be argued that, to the extent amateurs threaten the professional industry by providing free services, the professional industry has an interest in making its counterpart amateur activity shameful.
I am an amateur in a number of ways, as a fiction writer, as a musician, as a reader, as an artist, as a cyclist, as a blogger, and my interest and skill level vary greatly among these interests. I used to be an amateur computer programmer but now I am a professional at that. If I had my choice I would be better at some things than others, but on the whole I am content with my amateur status in all those things. In fact, I love being an amateur. I think it used to be more highly valued, and the Olympics especially represented that feeling. Today it’s almost socially unacceptable not to be trying to cash in on every little talent or interest you might have.