In a recent email to a friend, I wondered why some people were so rude and uncivil on electronic media, and opined that hobbies are supposed to be an escape. He returned a simple question, which is worth repeating:
They are, but with a 24/7 society, and the demands of a modern lifestyle, is it possible to step back, really relax, and enjoy some quality me time?
My answer was yes, but it does take a lot of discipline. One way of dealing with it is not to use forums whilst at work. In fact, I generally avoid them whilst wearing my work clothes. The stresses of work are therefore carried over a lot less than they otherwise might be. The main problem seems, to me at least, to be the impulse to say something – anything – no matter how vapid, just to be seen to be there.
But let’s be clear about this. Human beings are social animals: as David Attenborough said, “the compulsive communicators”. We love to chat, gossip, catch up on events, share in the joys and console during the woes of other people. Electronic media have created a genuine world village. This is not a bad thing in itself, and no one is forced to join in the global conversation to any great depth if they do not wish to, but we are – as a species – still working out the rules for all this, and how it works. There is bound to be disruption: look at what happened when Wycliffe tried to introduce an English language Bible, even though very few people could actually read it. The idea that reading, writing and arithmetic should be available to everyone would be anathema to nearly all societies as recent as 400 years ago, yet it is only 400 years since Shakespeare died. We have at least moved to the point where universal education is a key aim of the United Nations, and a core marker of a would-be civilised society. (Which is why literacy and numeracy rates are so important, and why good grammar – the bedrock of clear communication – so vital.)
This is massive change, but one which will be easier for us to deal with than was mechanisation, as forums, email, tweets, messaging, etc, can be used for communication by anyone with access to the electronic world, whereas a spinning Jenny had but a single use, and a single purpose which was to make things more efficiently, and reduce the drudgery of working life. The Swiss, although they rejected a formal notion about a minimum income for all adult Swiss citizens 2:1, are having the right conversation about the minimum standard of living that should apply in a civilised society – there was no upper limit, and once the politics of “inverse envy” (i.e. “Why should they get a share of my excess wealth, when they haven’t done anything?”) are negotiated, this can become a reality. Give everyone a good, basic, standard of living; eliminate poverty and ill-health. And then allow people to learn to be better in and of themselves, to be valued for what they are, not what they have earned. Create time for hobbies, but value the intrinsic gifts of work – and if there are no intrinsic gifts, try to replace the work with machines. And then hobbies can become a key part of defining ourselves, and being better at being ourselves.
I can’t think of a hobby which has so many opportunities to offer as model railways. I could list the skills I have acquired, the different crafts and trades I have worked at, and the many academic disciplines I have come to appreciate in support of my personal hobby path, but actually there is no point: life is not long enough.