Making hard work of leisure

The “protected space” that I wrote about last week reminded me of “leisure” in the old-fashioned sense of being able to pursue whatever one chooses, rather than have tasks imposed by physiology, social expectations, or work. That we now think of leisure as referring to idle or “fun” activities like watching television or visiting beach resorts might be interpreted as an expression of the vapid way that most people choose to spend their time, or it might be interpreted as a symptom of how little imagination and energy we find ourselves with after completing what is “necessary”.

I’ve found that making satisfactory use of my leisure time does (ironically, if one takes the “fun” view of leisure) require a certain amount of effort. I enjoy walks on the beach and elsewhere, and relaxing with a book or a beer, and so on, but doing that all of the time is just boring. To fully enjoy my leisure time, I also need to find some projects that inspire me. From what I’ve heard of retirement and unemployment, something like this is true of many if not most people so I’m inclined to think that the modern interpretation of “leisure” is largely due to paid work exhausting our capacity and desire to do something other than relax. (I should note that matters are probably not so bleak as that might sound: I know plenty of people who work full-time jobs and raise families who nonetheless have leisure to participate in hobbies and voluntary groups.)

Determining what to do with my leisure time can sometimes be hard. As I noted in an earlier entry, at any one time I typically have many things I could potentially do, but I often have to go searching for them in long-forgotten notes, or I might not have quite the time and resources required to make progress on a project that I might otherwise like to do. Or, often enough, I’m in a mood to write or cook or build but lack anything to write about or cook for.

Should society ever truly dispense of the need for paid work (or even greatly reduce it), I suspect we would need to develop ways of supporting people in using their leisure time. In fact, I recall hearing once that this was a popular concern around the 1950s or 1960s when people imagined that labour-saving technology might one day result in less need for labour. I have my own methods—my various to-do lists and setting aside certain times for certain things—and initiatives like Men’s Sheds and voluntary work programmes already exist to assist people who are retired or otherwise have more time on their hands than they might like. Science Fiction and the Economics of Utopia mentioned make-work schemes like the Reclamation & Reconstruction Corps of Player Piano, but I can’t imagine many wanting to sign up for work whose only purpose is to keep them busy (though proponents of “mutual obligation” and the like might be happy to sign up other people). But so far our solution to not knowing what to do with our leisure time seems to be to ensure that we don’t have too much of it.

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