Op-ed: The death of leisure is not our fault
On a recent trip to Farmers Horse Coffee, I sat at the infamous communal table across from two college students from the North East exchanging updates on their mutual friends. I learned that their friend had started fermenting his own kombucha and was experimenting with new flavors. My urge to amuse myself with the thought of twentysomethings hunched over a bowl of symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, was quickly replaced by another thought that was eating at me more and more: why didn’t I? I no hobby?
The seemingly innocuous topic of hobbies has become a topic of borderline existentialism for many young people. While it was once easier to make sure we were too busy, too exhausted, or too predisposed to filter time to get back to the long list of activities we once loved, the sphere of productivity has now invaded our last sanctuary, our free time. Although we feel like our own burnout or laziness is responsible for the death of hobbies, the most important driving forces are unsurprisingly the internet and, even more surprisingly, capitalism.
The capitalization of the internet, such an inherently personal space, has subtly led us to think about ourselves in monetizable ways, even beyond the reach of the digital world. With this in mind, the attention of others has become the most valuable currency, and we must successfully compete for it in ways that are both impressive and authentic. If you’re good at art, why don’t you sell it? If you’re good at music, why don’t you go to the studio? If you’re good at cooking, why not post it on TikTok? These compulsions to commodify the activities we enjoy have stripped leisure of its fundamental purpose of personal fulfillment.
The hobbies and communities we choose to be part of are also integral to who we are and how we understand ourselves. However, when this is combined with becoming aware of what our hobbies say about us, the results can be harmful. Was it really this man’s passion to make homemade kombucha or did he just enjoy being the carefree, earthy guy to those around him? The answer may seem inconsequential, but this line of thinking evolves towards an identity upheaval. When the distinctions between what we truly gravitate toward and what we embrace to be perceived as desirable blur, we trade our identity for a played character. Sociologist Erving Goffman dramaturgical theory gave a framework to this concept, saying that “social life is a ‘performance’ carried out by ‘teams’ of participants in three places: ‘in front of the stage’, ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘off the stage'”. When we’re in front of the stage we’re in a perpetual state of creating and maintaining impressions and backstage we’re rehearsing how we’d like those interactions to go and we’re most uninhibited.
Social media has created a scene before that we can never leave. In the digital realm, we will always exist for others and we will always have a third-person perspective on ourselves, resulting in an immense fixation on every detail of ourselves. When this need to appear effortlessly amazing on social media converges with capitalism’s expectations of making your interests a point of productivity and even income, the easiest option is to give in to our fatigue and do nothing. at all.
In the professional environment students are about to enter, work-life boundaries continue to erode, global economic and political systems are overwhelmed, and generational burnout is rampant. It is now more valuable than ever for students to pursue their interests unhindered by the fear of being “bad”.
When we think of the best times in our lives, they almost never have a monetary return. But as we submit more and more to being good, productive workers, we lose sight of the primary reason we work: to support ourselves and the activities that bring us joy. This desire to be productive coupled with a collective obsession with being utterly perfect needs to stop intruding on free time – a time when we have the right to draw gruesome drawings and experience SCOBY without guilt.
Ananya Chaudhari is a second-year economics and finance student. She can be reached at [email protected]