Monday, June 18, 2007

On free time.

I'm always amazed at what Americans do with their free time.

Browsing through the pretty incredible steampunk pictures posted to Wired, I couldn't help but think, "Jesus, this is what people do in their free time?" It's not enough to just be a punk anymore; no, now you can be a cyberpunk, or a splatterpunk, or some mutant variety of gutter punk.

Don't get me wrong - the gadgets were cool. People using modern technology but dressing it up in Victorian-style brass and fixtures is pretty neat, and you have to be skilled to make that kind of...whatever it is.

But that's just it: everyone can be super great at something, even your basic hobbies. Model trains, baseball cards, comic books, tombstone rubbing, hiking, movie posters, magic tricks, overseas travel - we Americans are pretty good at filling our free time.

"What do you do for fun?" is a simple, common question, but the range of answers is positively mind boggling. Thinking about what every American does when they get home, or with their free weekends, is enough to drive the average taxpayer Howard Beale mad.

Discussions about the meaning of life aside, a person could develop a whole other personality - in a whole other world - and never have to see the light of day to function as a human being. Or, more practically, you could spend your free time developing award-winning software. For free. That anyone can use. Just for the hell of it.

Not even I'm immune. After I bought my Apple a year and a half ago, I drank the water and swam neck-deep in the pool of old-school Macs. I've got an old Mac SE, one of the classics, sitting in my closet waiting for me to decide what I want to do about the screen that won't work.

I also drop about $20 a month at the local comic shop, and like (actually enjoy!) selling my - and soon my grandma's - crap on eBay.

When we retire, we're expected to have something ready for us - a hobby - when we stop working. To fill the time. Just 'cause.

And what fills that time often ends up defining a part of who we are.

"Oh, you go on wine tasting tours and have a basement full of bottles resting on their sides? I thought I smelled crushed grapes..."

Shit, someone could make a hobby out of browsing Wikipedia pages all day. Then I found someone had actually developed software to help you track the vast web of information you browse through while reading the encylopedic postings.

Is there no end? One things leads to another...

To think that, right now, someone somewhere is slowing placing a 1920s stamp on his collector's sheet, or watching a heretofore undiscovered bird through her binoculars, or paging through his yellowing pulp fiction novels, or holding a sex toy party with her gal pals - the world is full of so much variety and activity that I'm starting to question my thoughts on the monoculture and Wal-Martization of the world.

People will always find their "own thing" to do in the world, regardless of where they eat or do their shopping (and there are some who make hobbies out of those, too).

While many think we have less and less free time these days, I would argue that we just think there's less time in each day. Between all our activities (and non-activities, like watching the goddamn TV) and hobbies, maybe what we have is "disposable time." If we have some disposable income, we can surely find ways to spend it. Same with time.

And there's plenty out there to do.

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