Reaching out to young adults on this topic actually bears out NWC Editor JoLinn Kampstra’s original reason for assigning this series of articles: her concern that hands-on hobbies that provide welcome diversion from the hustle and bustle of life in post-electronically wired America are near to extinct among the Millennial Generation.
We wondered specifically about old-school hobbies and a demographic group that came of age with electronic gadgets that would define how they interacted both socially and economically. Generally speaking, Millennials include those born between 1982 and 1997, which makes the oldest in this group approximately thirty-five years old, and the youngest around the age of twenty.
Talking to five younger acquaintances of mine yielded only one who claimed to have a hobby, the oldest. Born in 1983, Nick, who enjoys assembling models of military vehicles like tanks and fighter planes, barely missed being part of Generation X, the demographic group that followed the Baby Boomers and preceded the Millennials.
The other young adults I talked to about hobbies simply shook their heads, as if the term itself was so anachronistic as to be obsolete.
Muriel, 27, a preschool teacher, was one for whom the term failed to resonate. She asked if taking piano lessons during her adolescent years counted. While “listening to music” is included in Wikipedia’s list of hobbies, learning to play an instrument is generally regarded as pursuing an interest in the musical arts. Collecting sheet music from the 1960s is more the kind of hobby we’re focused on here.
For the purposes of this article, participation in the arts or in sports are not regarded as classic “hobbies.”
Tim, 23, who works as a checker at a local supermarket, also was nonplussed by the term hobby. “I was on the computer at school from about the age of six,” he says, “and I’ve been gaming on computers ever since. I guess that would be my hobby.”
But again, for the purposes of this discussion, a “hobby” having anything to do with screens, monitors and touch-pads fly in the face of the our premise, that “electronica” has killed-off the classic hobby.
Here are some classic hobbies as categorized by Wiki: embroidery, flower arranging, sketching, scrapbooking, pottery, crochet, do-it-yourself home improvement, yoga, comic book collecting, fossil hunting. Although having internet access can certainly aid in the furtherance of a hobby, only one hobby listed on the Wiki page primarily involved having an electronic device. You guessed it: web surfing.
Even the gaming category specifically mentions “tabletop or role playing” games, not computer games.
Natalie, 28, a hairstylist, also wore a perplexed expression when asked about hobbies. Like all Millennials, she was introduced to the allures of the information superhighway at a very young age. “They actually trained us in elementary schools to use computers, and encouraged us to use them in researching and completing assignments. Once I got my first IPAD for Christmas I was hooked.”
Roger, 21, a sophomore at Portland State University studying environmental science, does not consider his abiding interest and participation in track and field to be a hobby, but a sport. While the Wiki list does include many sports activities, like skiing, fishing, and volleyball among many others, once we enter the realm of sports we’ve left the realm of classic hobbies like record collecting (which has seen a resurgence among young and old folks who harken back to a time when vinyl platters were the only game in town), glassblowing, gardening, and astronomy.
Nick, an archives administrator at a local museum, our borderline Gen Xer, enjoyed assembling models of military vehicles and aircraft as a youngster, and has rediscovered it in his third decade. “My work is all about computers, data bases, emails, all day every day,” he says. “I was at ToysRUS to pick up a gift for my toddler cousin and saw a really cool model of an Abrams tank.” Nick says that the time he spent offline painting and assembling the model refreshed him after eight hours in the cyber-jungle, and since then he’s constructed several more.
Maybe it comes down to reaching critical mass with the Millennial Generation. It might be a matter of their electronically inundated generation growing a bit older. Perhaps they will discover a classic hobby when the inexorable and addictive demands of their wired lives leave them feeling empty and unfulfilled at the end of the day.
Next month: Talking to Baby Boomers about their hobbies.