Searching for meaning?

There is a really interesting long read in today’s Guardian. The article examines how we have weaponised our leisure time in a way that would have been unthinkable to our grandparents (and probably even our parents). Competition and the clamour for public approbation of our sporting, baking, reading, photographic or other (insert hobby here) activities is linked to a decline in the meaning that we find in our professional lives. The argument runs that if you are in a bullshit job (and – to a greater or lesser extent – most of us are), then one way to find meaning in your life is through the things that you do in your leisure time. The ability to share our achievements, exploits, creations, finish times on a whole range of social media platforms serves to both reinforce this sense of meaning, but also increases the pressure that we feel to be better/faster/more creative. Rather than leisure time being a time to rest and recover, we use our hobbies and other discretionary activity as a way to increase our sense of personal worth and value.

There’s a lot in the article that I can identify with. When I’m running (and I’ll be back soon – see blogs passim) I do user a tracker and upload my data to Strava. I like to monitor my progress, but not in comparison to others. I keep my stats to track my own progress – when I run at parkrun or any other run, I’m running with other people, not against them. My competition is the clock. To be honest, it’s the same with this blog. I do like to see whether people are reading, and it’s always interesting to compare which posts attract more or less reader attention. But – to take the daily blogpost through November as an example – what really matters to me is the discipline of completing the challenge. Completing it as a ‘public’ diary rather than simply jotting down some thoughts in an exercise book is part of the way that I hold myself to account.

There’s an interesting section in the Guardian piece about the ways that some people are using YouTube guides and audiobooks to fast-track their social time – listening to audio-books at 1.5x speed, or fast forwarding through on-line videos. This is presented as being something new. I’m less sure about that, though. I still vaguely remember the Readers Digest booklets that were a regular arrival at my grandparents’ house, containing abridged versions of various books. Perhaps in some respects, at least, whilst the technology has undoubtedly changed, the desire to squeeze the most benefit possible from our leisure time is not so different to that experienced by earlier generations.

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