So what do people like me do in their spare time — when they have spare time at all? Let’s skip the bit about “family & friends” and go straight to something a bit more selfish: what we do when we have time on our own. While being with family & friends is obviously also fun, there is a trade-off — not all share the same “concept of fun” so we have to agree on things that we all enjoy (which in my circle of friends means mostly chatting about pretty much everything; from Spinoza to politics, from ancient Egyptian art to macroeconomy… and what we shopped for on the previous day 😉 ).
When I’m on my own, however, there is no separation between what would be considered by others “work” and what is actual “leisure”. A friend of mine has a good definition: “leisure is when you’re not being paid to do things”. And she’s right! There is actually no difference in the quality of things being done. For example, I might be tinkering with a WordPress install — if it’s for my personal blog, it’s “leisure”. If it’s for a client, it’s “work”. Or I might be adjusting a script in Second Life. If a customer pays me to do that, it’s “work”. If it’s part of something that eventually will pop up on SL Marketplace (or one of my WordPress plugins that integrate with SL), well, then, it’s “leisure”.
Similarly, if I’m researching academic papers about my field of work, it’s, well, “work”. If I start to read articles about economy, identity, or social networking, well, that’s “leisure” (since nobody pays me to write articles about those topics 🙂 ). The amount of trouble for either is, however, similar.
Tweaking a server for a customer to run their own web server is “work”; tweaking my own server to get OpenSim to perform a bit better takes about the same amount of time. But the latter is “leisure”. So I guess you can see the pattern here: leisure is an activity I perform without being asked for, without getting a financial return, and without deadlines or other constraints.
Now most people have “hobbies” — activities that are utterly removed from their main, professional activity. From collecting things to reading, from sports or outdoor activities to playing console games… or logging in to Second Life… the idea is that people are supposed to spend their spare time doing “completely different” activities, to “take their minds off” their daily routine at work. It’s like the leisure time is some sort of “antidote” against the “poison” of the work. While I’m certainly sure that most people don’t feel that their work is “toxic” and required “de-poisoning”, I’m sure that most will agree that leisure should be an activity that “takes the mind off work”. Some examples are obvious: a doctor isn’t going to treat patients in their free time; they have seen plenty of suffering the whole day. A teacher, after doing classes with unruly students, just wants to sit with a nice book and relax. Wall Street yuppies (if there are any left…) will probably continue to make contacts and get tips for the next breakthrough IPO by playing golf, but at least they’ll be in the outdoors and not worried about taking phone calls and constantly checking on streams of data. Lawyers might have fun playing railroad tycoon games on their PCs at home (yes, Ashcroft, if you’re reading this, I’ve got you in mind 🙂 ).
On creative professions, this might be not so easy to separate. Imagine a professional graphics designer, who sits in an office the whole day designing covers for fashion magazines. At night at home, they might be designing clothes for SL instead. It’s a similar activity — possibly using different tools, and for completely different purposes — but there is still an artistic drive which makes their leisure time “different” than their worktime. Journalists might be writing on their novel when at home (I know a few that actually write their novels during work hours, because they have so little to do — except spending the whole day reading Facebook and Twitter streams, and testing out Google Plus). And obviously it’s not just the creative areas; some areas definitely might have some overlap, even though the person doesn’t realise that their professional skills are actually being employed (even if just subconsciously) during their leisure time as well. I just mention the creative professions because they’re easier to understand how smoothly the transition between “work” and “leisure” can be.
And a few of us simply have no different activities. They just spend time doing pretty much what they would be doing during their working hours; but, instead, they focus on personal projects. And here I prefer to define them as before: these are projects without any kind of expectations (of glory, fame, money…) and no constraints (no deadlines, no nasty bosses or clients making impossible demands, no stress in getting the project finished — it can be abandoned or picked up again at will without anyone complaining). In some cases, of course, “hobbies” turn into professional projects (that’s what happened with me with Second Life and WordPress, for example); in some cases, the reverse happens (e.g. a programmer might get a job as a teacher, but keeps programming as a hobby).
When the split between leisure and work is obvious, it’s also clear to see why people spend their time in specific activities that are completely different from their work routine. The motivation is to do something so completely different that it relaxes the mind and the body. Their friends and family might perfectly understand why a busy CEO suddenly wants to spend the weekend just fishing (even if they don’t catch anything): the whole point is avoiding the stress, the routine, the constant contact with others, and so forth, and keeping the mind in a completely different state that (hopefully) induces relaxation. Doctors, for instance, will definitely recommend that.
When there is no split, but just a smooth transition from one activity to the other, and they’re just arbitrarily labeled as “work” or “leisure”, this is much harder to understand. “So, what do you do for a living?” asks the doctor. “3D modelling in Second Life.” “Is it stressy?” “Yes, when the customer yells at me, doesn’t pay, or wants something impossible.” “Ok, so what do you do to relax and forget about your work?” “3D modelling in Second Life…” You can see that this is the kind of dialogue with a doctor that will not end well 🙂
Not only this is incomprehensible to most, but there is a big question to be raised in this case. What is the motivation behind doing the same kind of activities during one’s leisure time — if it’s not for fame, glory, money, or simply to relax?
Since it’s something eminently personal, I suggest that it’s related mostly to self-accomplishment: a feeling where we are able to prove to ourselves that we have managed to do something on our own — without anyone else pressing us to do so.