Working in the forums I have seen two threads repeated over and over. In every local geocaching group they pop up, and in discussions at times.
The older (I mean pre-2004) cachers sit down and start yearning for the old days. Back in the days when all the containers were clean ammo cans or five gallon buckets. The geocoins and trackables were lovingly cared for, followed, tracked, and hunted for. And they were all filled with golden magical items, $20 bills, at the end of rainbows.
The Golden Age of Geocaching 2000-2004 (the first five years)
I was not around, but have talked to enough people, and followed enough threads to put a few things together. Remember that GPS units in the first few years of geocaching were expensive. The crappy ones that we take for granted now were expensive. Few people had them, and maps were another expensive addition to the models sold. Also, why did you have them? Avid hunters, backwoods explorers, would get them to help them out.
So caching was in the hands of the well off, well to do (for the most part). Few caches were out. When they were placed they were planned out, well stocked and people traveled to them on purpose. When you arrived you brought something to trade, you knew how many caches you wanted to go to. Each cache had to be put in by hand, usually off of a printout that you carried with you. Downloading a Pocket Query into a GPS was unheard of.
Trackables were carefully monitored. There were not many caches at that point so it was rather simple.
Caches themselves were placed with care. I want to take someone to a cool out of the way location. In fact I have heard from caches that tried to place micros, or caches in cities that were mocked and ridiculed by other cachers saying "that is not geocaching"
The Silver Age of Geocaching 2005-2009
you started to see a huge shift. Low priced gps units started to appear. And the flow of caches started to migrate to the cities. Cachers could start to load multiple caches into their GPS units. Paperless caching became the buzzword. GPS units that could carry all of a cache page were being pushed by retailers, and others carried old Palm Pilots, or other handheld devices where they could load the Pocket Queries into.
It is during this period that caching really exploded. The lower cost units started to bring in many cachers that before could not afford a GPS. Better/cheap/free maps began to appear to allow people to track and follow their movements. Groundspeak significantly improved its site and offerings.
What happened? Well micros boomed. they were scattered hither and yon as times went on. You could now find a cache during your lunch break, family visits, at a church or shopping mall near you. More people were interested, and things literally exploded.
Trackables were starting to be carried to every horrible cache by people. People would find a cache under a park bush and drop a trackable. A cache that kids would easily find and steal. So many travel bugs ended up in some kids dresser on in the trash. Some coins were stolen, there are a number of cachers out there that started to hoard coins. Stolen coins that were traveling that found their way into a collection.
The swag quality dropped. Rather than trading nice things, you began to see the average cacher carry less, or cheap toys. People would take, and never replace. So older caches began to be filled with poorer and poorer quality stuff. Basically if they were unmaintained, they were trash heaps.
Modern Age 2010-
Where are we now? Cell phones and free programs mean that just about everyone can cache. Everyone that wants to try out this new thing can find a few. That also means that people that have no idea what is going on, or what is considered polite, are out there finding caches.
I have seen parents take kids to a cache and drain it of everything. Take the trackables off chains and drop the chains back in the cache. Carry off coins not knowing what to do. Things have changed.
Power trails have appeared in the last few years. ET highway is the most notable. People have started to travel great distances to accomplish challenges, trails, etc. Geotourism is popular in some ares. I see (in Utah) a large number that travel to accomplish their caching goals. I have met a number of people coming to visit to grab all the caches they can.
Is it better? worse? In many ways both. There are problems. Some detest caching for what it has become, yet there is always something around. I have found and walked away from others that were in trash heaps, and found some of the most creative caches.
There is no way to fix what is there. Too many cachers that will go a few times and never again. It has always been that way. Find a few caches and then move on. Families, boy/girl scouts, people on vacation, people on business trips, that just raid something then move on. Inconsiderate people will always be out there.
I would ask people to please take the time to think. I still love it, and enjoy it. There are problems, but I enjoy what is out there. Some are challenges, others are not. Some can be grabbed as I drive by, and others with a ton of work. I have been thinking about it more as I approach #3000. I am looking for something special. I don't know where/when but I will find something that I want to do. I am guessing this month, so I do not have much time to hunt.
I forgot to Add
I think many of the things that I mentioned in the title are myths. All couched in half truths.
Swag: some never placed good stuff, or traded materials.
Coin theft: Most vanish by new cachers that are not paying attention.
Micros: They are out there. Some love them. At times I do, other times I dont. I go in cycles.
In the end if you are playing the game for one of these reasons your foolish. Geocaching has changed. The dynamics and the groups playing have changed. Pick what interests you. If you love the powertrail, then do the powertrail. If you love the mountaintop, and have the physcial ability, then hike to the mountaintop.
A few notes from 2013
As I have recived a few emails and a few notes, I thought I would post a few notes.
There were differences years ago. We all know that. There are a different crowd that hunt now. Those that think that I am attacking families, I am not. They have changed the game, of course. Instead of the outdoorsman, we see families. There are caches all around.
Years ago most planned things out, now we have more casual people. That makes a difference.
I had someone mock me for eras. How did I come up with them?
The early time period were the years that there were few cache placments. They were not all better. In fact many of the rules were developed because of problems in that time period. I called it the golden age because people like to talk about the "old days"
The next time period was in that explosion of caching, up to the point where phones came on the scene.
The last was where phones took over. Most of the cachers I know that used to cache regularly with their GPS, and never let it leave their side. Now they use their phones, except if they go into the back country, or trips.