The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.
In Praise of Idleness, Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell wrote on the use of idle time in 1932. Back then there wasn’t even television or the Internet. Nevertheless, people still seemed to find plenty of ‘passive’ activities to fill their time. What would Bertrand write now? Almost 90 years after In Praise of Idleness, the options of ‘passive’ activities to spend our leisure time have grown exponentially. We watch reality shows, read status updates on social media, follow influencers, read about the lives of celebrities, and so on. Passive pleasures. We are mere spectators of what other people are doing and creating. We are professional watchers.
When we get back home from work we need to ‘back off’ and ‘relax’. We pick up our smartphones and swipe or scroll down for a few minutes. Or, even better, we watch a couple episodes of the latest series on Netflix. We make the best use of our idle time. After all, that’s why it’s called ‘time off’, right? This is the moment to forget about work, about our problems, and to take our minds somewhere else. The less effort involved, the better. The easier, the better. If it can be done with a thumb, the best.
Boredom and Entertainment
The use of social media and other modern forms of entertainment (TV, movies, YouTube, etc) are our preferred way of dealing with boredom. Whenever we have leisure time, we reach out to our phones. We don’t know what it is like to be bored anymore. As soon as we feel a little bit of boredom, we grab our phone.
We have become addicted to being ‘entertained’. We are held by our devices. A long time ago we have stopped being users. Now we are used by technology. And we might be losing ourselves in the way.
Take on an Active Hobby
Do you spend most of your free time in passive activities (watching videos, checking your social media feeds, checking email…)? Are you happy with that? If you are, just keep doing it 🙂 If you’re not, I have a suggestion for you: take on an active hobby.
You could try learning how to play a musical instrument (or how to sing), how to paint, how to do woodwork, how to write stories, etc. You get the idea. Choose an activity that you’re interested in, that challenges you, and that adds value to your life. You can pick virtually anything.
Put aside any thoughts or beliefs about talent. Don’t worry about having it or not. In fact, you don’t even need talent. You can start learning anything that picks your interest. As long as you enjoy doing it, it will be a good choice for you. If you spend time on your hobby and practice consistently, you will get better. But that shouldn’t be your main goal.
Finding Your Active/Passive Balance
Most of us need some time off to completely disconnect from our everyday activities, and that’s why we tend to engage in passive entertainment. Nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch movies, YouTube or Netflix anymore, or that you should go offline and throw your smartphone. What I’m advocating is to engage in these activities when you decide to do it, and not all the time (because you don’t have ‘other options’).
To really see the difference you will have to try it yourself. Start learning something new, build some hands-on experience and tackle a new skill. It might take more time and effort than swiping on a screen with your thumb, but it’s totally worth it.