Thursday, November 17, 2016

Unskilled Leisure

Whilst slumped in front of the TV the other evening, it occurred to me that even our leisure time is being deskilled.  For those of you unfamiliar with the nomenclature of sociology, deskilling is the process by which formerly complex tasks requiring skill and experience to complete, are replaced by a streamlined process comprised of a series of simplified tasks, which are often mechanised and which can be completed with little or no training.  Essentially, it is what happened when the production line replaced small groups of artisans operating out of workshops, hand crafting components, as the main industrial process.  Those skilled artisans, who could charge relatively high rates for their work, were displaced by unskilled, or, at best, semi-skilled employees forced to accept a flat wage.  Traditionally, this sort of deskilling, which conveniently forces down wages, was confined to the industrial sector, but, in past couple of decades, there have been concerted efforts, often on the back of modern IT systems, to deskill white collar work.  Increasingly, there are attempts to break down office work into a series of simplistic tasks, which can be written on a 'job card' and, in theory, can be carried out by anyone, regardless of skill level.

But I've digressed from my original point: the deskilling of our leisure time.  Nowadays, it all seems to involve us passively consuming entertainment streamed to us through our TVs, laptops, tablets and smart phones.  We don't have to do anything other than decide what it is we want to watch or listen to, then watch or listen to it.  There is no skill involved.  Back in the day, before multi-channel TV and the internet, we used to have hobbies -we'd spend our time building plastic kits or model railways, or doing stuff like carpentry or engineering projects.  I used to know people who had their own workshops or mini machine shops in their sheds and garages, where they used to do stuff like making their own furniture, or building things like miniature traction engines.  If we weren't making things, were playing games, both the outdoor and indoor variety.  With regard to the latter, there were all manner of quite complex board games, not to mention war games, both the board variety and the miniatures-based type, where you could use all those model tanks you'd built and those model soldiers you'd built.

Now, I know that we still have games, in the form of electronic games and computer games.  I know that these do involve skill, but I can't help but feel that it isn't the same.  These days, games of this type seem to based around reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination, rather than the more cerebral skills required of the games of my youth.  Which, I know, is top do modern gaming a disservice, but there you are. But when the modern computer revolution started in earnest, it seemed to offer the prospect of new kinds of skilled leisure.  I remember the days of things like the BBC Micro and the various Sinclair micro-computers, when we could still actually write programs for them ourselves.  People even wrote their own games.  But, slowly but surely, that changed and home PCs became things you simply used to run professionally produced software, with everything pre-written.  It was the same with the internet:  in the early days everyone was coding their own wild and wonderful websites, it seemed herald a new age of creativity.  But, again, surely but slowly, surfing the net became an ever more passive experience, with proper websites giving way first to personal blogs (which at least were still creative, albeit using a pre-coded and hosted platform) then Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.  The walled garden of social media platforms, where everything you see and experience can be moderated, measured and controlled and you only interact with people you know, have become the main internet experience for the majority of people.  It's all about just consuming content pushed at us by others rather than creating our own.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not getting nostalgic and advocating that we return to the days when the main way to pass the long winter evenings ws to whittle away at a piece of wood.  But it would be nice if we could just be a little less passive when we're not at work.  The modern workplace is soul destroying enough, without our free time being reduced to merely consuming corporately created and approved 'content'.  For me, the joy of creativity, be it writing stuff like this, creating stories for The Sleaze or recording and editing together podcasts and films, is what keeps me going through the stultifying dullness of work.  With work becoming increasingly joyless and unsatisfying, I find myself turning to more and more creative outlets: the rekindling of my interest in model railways being one example.  So stop just watching TV, or reading stuff like this on the web, and go and do something! 



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