Amateur radio is a pretty cool hobby.
You can talk, send data, morse code (YouTube: Is morse faster than SMS?), pictures, or live TV to anyone all around the world.
You can do it from your home, car, or using a handheld in a tent on top of a hill.
You can transmit directly (antenna to antenna), via a repeater, through satellites put into space just for Amateur use (YouTube), bounce your signals off the ionosphere, moon (YouTube), or even off meteor showers.
Sometimes, you even hear about invasions before the rest of the world does.
You can even listen to the creepy "Numbers stations" that are used to send coded instructions to spies, or astronauts in space (and sometimes talk to them (YouTube)).
You can build your own transmitters and receivers from kits, or from your own designs, use a piece of copper wire as an antenna, and work all around the world for under £100 ($200 ish) . Or you can buy your equipment from Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom, and other such companies, and use huge antennas.
"But the Internet does all that better, faster, and more reliably."
Sure it does. Today. From somewhere with an internet connection, or somewhere with mobile phone coverage. To somewhere else with an internet connection. When you're not in a power cut. When your ISP is up. When workmen haven't cut through some cables or fibre. When you kid brother isn't downloading huge files, or your ISP haven't throttled your speed. And the Internet isn't free either. (Did you know that 22.214.171.124/8 is reserved for Amateur Packet Radio use?)
But have you thought of what can happen in an emergency/disaster?
I had someone say to me once: "Emergencies? That's what a mobile phone is for." Bless her. She was serious, too.
Think of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2003 power blackouts in the US, or the Indonesian Tsunami.
In all of those, things like telephone lines, and mobile phone masts were washed/blown away/destroyed.
In all of these events, Ham radio played a large part in getting information to and from the affected regions.
It's even been used to call for help from space, when the MIR space station was in distress.
In fact, there are even special groups set up to help the emergency services in such situations.
Even when there isn't a disaster though, it's pretty cool to be driving around in your car, talking to someone in the US, or Russia, or anywhere in the world, for that matter.
"Seems pretty pointless to me..."
Did you see that word hobby in the first sentence? What's the point of stamp collecting, following a football team, or knitting.
All of these things cost money, and don't really have a "point".
Plus it's a good excuse to drive up a hill or mountain with a picnic, and enjoy the view.
The good news is that it's much easier to get started these days. Everyone needs a licence, and for that you have to take an exam. Now (in the UK) the exam is broken into three levels, with the Foundation level mainly concentrating with operating practices, without getting into the heavy electrical/antenna theory that can be quite daunting.
Find your local club (US), go along and chat to them, and see what you think.
Added: 2008-06-12 22:00