The Death of the Hobby

By The Elm - Oct 18,2013@2:58 pm

By Kim Uslin
Senior Writer

It happens every time. You’re sitting beside a distant cousin at a family function or chatting with a stranger at the bar when a lull in conversation gives rise to that oh-so-awkward question: “So, what do you do for fun? Any hobbies?”

With that one simple inquiry, you’re off on a ten-minute tangent about your superlatively demanding schedule of lectures, coursework, and endless clubs and activities–not to mention volunteer work and your work study job. Look how busy I am! your rant screams. I’m not just some Natty-guzzling coed squandering my parents’ money!

And that’s great. Involvement is tantamount to any college experience, and engagement with extracurriculars is a fantastic way to connect with the campus community and make the most of your four years of undergrad education. But are the things filling up your schedule hobbies?

The OED defines a hobby as “a favorite occupation or topic, pursued merely for the amusement or interest that it affords.” Generally speaking, the various clubs and activities college students take part in do partially adhere to this definition. Extracurriculars tend to represent things students enjoy doing or, at the very least, reflect their interests in some way. Otherwise, participation in these clubs would be nothing more than resume-packing. There’s a pretty major difference, however, between sitting down to knit a scarf in front of a roaring fireplace (or the latest episode of “Alaskan Women Looking for Love”) and showing up in Goldstein every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. for Knitting Club. With all the dues, activity fees, time commitments, and the potential for sanction, these interests soon stop being “pursued merely for the amusement or interest they afford” and start becoming responsibilities. Transforming a hobby into a club or activity, it seems, makes it not a hobby at all.

So is the hobby dead on college campuses? Of the 194 (and counting) clubs at Washington College, there seems to be a niche for every possible leisure activity. Enjoy reading and writing? Why do it in the privacy of your own room when you could join the Writer’s Union, submit to the Collegian, or watch your manuscript come alive with the Independent Playhouse? Like playing sports? Join any one of the manifold Intramural and club teams on campus. Even remarkably special-interest activities, like LARP or Wilderness Adventure, have their own organized, faculty-advised groups.

Granted, there’s no clause in your acceptance letter that says you must make your hobby official through club membership. WC students don’t have to become involved in anything beyond their coursework. Theoretically, in fact, we could spend all of our non-class/homework time pursuing any number of enriching hobbies on our own. Why not, for once, do something for its (and our) own sake?

But we don’t. There’s something attractive, it seems, about turning hobbies into responsibilities. Perhaps it’s our compulsive need to feel that we’re accomplishing something. It could be that we enjoy pursuing our hobbies in the company of others. Whatever the reason, it does seem a bit sad to formalize and label our leisure activities. But look on the bright side: by making our favorite things into To-Do list items, we’re ensuring that we have a little time each week to do what we love.

The Elm

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