Saturday, July 14, 2007

The privatizing of leisure
or how I learned to stop having fun

I watched a new neighbor move-in over the past few days. Most of her big boxes included multiple types of exercise equipment (abs, arms, cardio), HD TV’s for the living room, bedroom and kitchen (she lives in a one-bedroom apartment), boxes of CD’s and DVD’s, a gaming system (including exercise and karaoke games), two types of iPods, a Blackberry and what appeared to be multiple cell phones. Of course, she had high-speed Internet access and cable with a million channels. I invited her over for dinner, but as you can imagine, she is far to busy (which is fine, because I’m too busy as well and I had hoped she’d turn me down). My new neighbor’s apartment is a mirror of my apartment (minus some equipment that I don’t own but covet) and while they are just a few feet away from each other, but they are both fully functioning entertainment and gym complexes.

The Consumer Electronics Association projects that Americans will spend $155 billion on consumer goods in 2007, up from $97 billion in 2000. This fact alone is not relevant in my life, but it is the type of technology that is being introduced that is affecting me. Watching my neighbor move in, I realized that ostensibly, everything I own is for convenience (so that I can get what I want, when I want it) and time efficiency with my leisure. But inevitably, everything is designed so that I can be alone. The home has always been a place of leisure, but in contemporary times, my attachment to my home has increased as it now provides for such a huge array of leisure time activities that used to be group social activities.

Consumer goods have not just effected my ability to spend leisure time at home, I now seem to be conducting leisure activities all day long. Over the past five or so years, I have learned to spend more of my time as leisure time and always in snippets. There has been a privatizing of leisure recently where every new piece of technology is developed to occupy every minute of my day in small, personalized segments of time. At any time during the day, I can read, play, text, call, surf, watch or listen. Now I get what I want, when I want it, but always alone, even in public.

There is a pull toward isolating entertaining equipment for one simple reason: if I add up all of the “in-between” moments of my life (like on my way to the bathroom, waiting for the “T”, etc.,) it will be a lot more time than I could set aside to actually have a planned activity. What this means is that I am much more likely to have time to text a friend ten times in one day than to have coffee and talk with them; even though they may add up to the same amount of real time.

Every free minute of my day can now be occupied by activity based leisure time and my home is no longer a place of simple leisure, it is my entertainment center and gym. When I add it all up, it now seems as if I spend most of my time conducting “leisure time” activities, like chatting with friends, or personal entertainment, but it is not what I want. It’s like I’ve learned to constantly fill my time with little bits of immediate pleasure instead of any meaningful leisure time pursuits. While I am not a psychologist, it really does not seem healthy and small amounts of fun during the day do not seem to add up to anything fulfilling. I am quite sure that what I would prefer is to stop spending time in short segments, and spent it in activities that require one aggregate amount of time. And most importantly, I want to spend the time with other people.

It seems as if it has become impossible for all of my friends and I to do what I have read people used to do regularly in the past; meet at the same time and place each week for some random social activity (bowling, community theater, etc.) Now, it takes at least a week worth of planning to meet someone for just a few minutes. When we do get together, we all lead such privatized lives that the core topics of discussions are usually the news (which quickly leads to pointless political agreement or an argument) or common entertainment (television or movies.) There are so many TV shows now, that we never have a common show to discuss. So we are left with the movies.

There is only one reason why I go to the movies: so that I will have something to talk about with my friends. If I actually cared about the movie, I would wait three months for the DVD which usually has extras that actually do augment the movie. But if I wait the three months, I will miss the excitement of discussing the movie with my friends. For some people, the movie environment is worth paying for the “unique movie going experience”, but I don’t really like the movie environment that much.

So that’s why I look forward to the Big Red and Shiny Summer Movie Extravaganza. I don’t care about the movies, but Matt Nash’s review of the Fantastic Four in the first Extravaganza is still the best movie review I have ever read. Christian Holland (who writes extremely insightful reviews of art exhibitions) reviewing “Tokyo Drift” gets better every time I read it. I could easily say great things about all of Big Red’s writers for the Movie Extravaganza. I love reading their reviews because I know that the reviews are not being written by professional movie critics who have a some vested interest in the movies, while at the same time, the quality of the reviews provides more insight into the movies than amateur reviews on Yahoo. The Summer Movies Extravaganza allows me to read what people who usually write about art, think about a topic that I am mildly interested in: movies. The best part of talking about movies is that everyone feels entitled to their opinion, so there is always lively dialog without anyone’s feelings getting hurt. The Summer Movie Extravaganza offers a starting place for more human interaction and dialog in a world that continues to produce more trends toward privatization and isolation.

So what, I am really advocating is goal-oriented reading. After reading the Summer Movie Extravaganza issue, I am more likely to try to have lunch with one of the writers or readers of Big Red and talk about the movie reviews. (Or even more truthfully, I am more likely to have lunch with someone who does not regularly read Big Red and quote one of the writers as if it was my insight into a movie so that I seem smarter than I am.) So when you are done reading a few of the movie reviews, go have dinner with a friend and discuss what you thought of the summer movies and reviews. I know I’d be up for it, just text me and I’m sure we can work out a time.

Consumer Electronics Sales

Google Images results for "Home Theater"

Movie poster for "Live Free or Die Hard"
the only movie I have seen this summer

Text me to discuss it ...


At 3:03 PM, Blogger Ninja Dave said...

I like your thoughts about media and gadgets occupying all of our time in brief amounts of time ALL day long and more importantly privately. While I was reading your post I was fighting between reading, watching Food Network, downloading new music while updating podcasts to my blog. If I had gotten a text message it would've been the equivalent of a triple double.
I'm not sure if you're aware of it but computer electronic makers are slowly becoming aware of the isolation factor of the digital world. Company's like Nintendo have recognized this problem and have slowly been reversing the tide. With the Wii and all of the Wii Sport games Nintendo has been making games a "social event". For me I play the most Wii when people come over, the complete opposite of a game like World of War Craft where everything about the game is personal and private. Microsoft and Sony who both have put millions of bucks into their new consols have been shocked by the graphically inferior Wii dominating sales with the new fun group games. So now Sony and Microsoft are shifting gears from high end games to more games like Guitar Hero
Other company's are trying to get into the public realm of technology as well. Microsoft's Zune media player has the ability to share music from one zune to another. So two people can be walking down the road listening to the same song at the same time thus removing media players from being personal players. Apple has also applied for similar pattens to be included on the new iPod and future iPhones. While these are just minor changes from the private home theater I think these are signs of the industry understanding that as humans we still like actual interaction and not just messages on Myspace.


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