Curator’s Note: Thanks to all my readers for your patience during this hiatus. I’m bringing back the blog this week with a heartfelt and thoughtful argument for not taking our hobbies so seriously – by which the author means a kind of relentless demand that our time and energy always be productive. For my part, it’s an argument I’m wholeheartedly in agreement with. Welcome back!
This happened when I was a kid, and was with my parents at a flea market:
Me: *sees an Apple IIe* Ooh, I’d love to have that.
Dad: But what would you do with it?
Me: Oh, you know, play around with it. Tinker. Hack.
Dad: Can’t you just do that on a modern computer?
Me: Yeah, but it’s not the same. I first learned how to program on an Apple II. There’s no other machine quite like it.
Dad: But how are you going to make anything useful on it?
I mean, yes, I get that he didn’t want to spend money on what was essentially an ancient toy. Fair enough. But even (wait, no, especially) as a kid, this idea that an activity had to be “useful” in order to be worthwhile appalled me.
I’ve learned, though. Over the course of my teen years and into adulthood, I’ve learned that people hate it when you value just playing with and/or creating stuff for its own sake. And by “people”, I mean “jerks”, but there are a lot of those, and they are the ones at or near the top of capitalism who are trying to enslave everybody.
You hear this all the time, about all kinds of hobbies. Like with fan fiction: “Why don’t you try writing some real literature for a change?” Or amateur game development (which is undertaken mainly because people enjoy the process of making a game): “This sucks. Who would play this? Why are you wasting your time?” Or building and programming LEGO robots: “Nerd. Why don’t you do something meaningful for a change?” Or messing around with old computers: “What’s the point? You know you’re not gonna build anything useful with that, right?”
All of these have the same underlying sick, capitalist message: “You’re not being productive. Nobody would pay for the things you do or buy the things you make; therefore, they’re worthless. (And therefore, by extension, you’re worthless.)”
Looking at this from an anti-capitalist perspective, it’s easy to recognize that it’s bullshit. Our worth as people, morally speaking, is not determined by whether or not something we do is helping to “create wealth” for some corporation. And yet, through the combination of indoctrination “higher education” and the constant dehumanization of wage slavery, we are made to believe that it’s actually true, that the things we do for fun are somehow bad and meaningless if they are not also making someone money.
Gone are the days when I could just plop myself down in front of the computer, start typing away, and have the basic skeleton for a playable game in less than an hour. Now, whenever I try to make a game, I get so concerned with trying to make everything “good” (by mainstream market standards) that I end up not making anything at all. Same with all of my attempts to write fiction, or music.
I hate this. I want my hobbies back.
Difficult though it is, we really need to pull our collective head out of capitalism’s ass. A spare-time, just-for-fun hobby is not about “productivity”; it’s about fucking around doing something you enjoy. If that happens to result in something that other people like, great, but you do not owe the world a salable product from your goofing off. Believing that you do will quickly suck all the joy out of doing the things you love. At least, it does for me.
“I want my hobbies back” ©kiriamaya, originally posted on 31 July 2013