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People ask me what I do for fun, and without skipping a beat, I respond, “baking.” My resume says that I am also into Portuguese and playing the trumpet. In actuality, I’ve baked once in the last six months, the only Portuguese I can say is Obrigado, and I stopped playing the trumpet in the sixth grade. In the eyes of most adults, this is considered pure laziness or a lack of commitment. Fair enough.
Many people think they do a much better job of keeping up with their hobbies than I do. Looking around, however, a lot of us usually settle for mindlessly puttering around the house rather than picking up the trumpet to play a quick tune. Falling out of touch with one’s hobbies must appear natural for someone of older age, but it seems lame to see a similar degree of dispassion in someone supposedly in the prime of their life.
Growing up during the proliferation of social media, Gen Z is accustomed to receiving external validation for doing the things that make them happy. Online, most people are quick to celebrate even the smallest action that appears to add depth to one’s life and character; Historically, this was not always the case. There was no additional endorphin rush awarded to a Baby Boomer who decided to go on a bike ride one weekend. In theory, the only reward was the simple enjoyment of bike riding itself.
It’s hard to say confidently whether my actions and motivations are as pure. I rarely experience a moment that goes uncaptured or unacknowledged by at least one member of my family or friend group. This struggle to partake in almost anything unplugged makes it hard to decipher whether or not I genuinely enjoy the things that I’ve always considered central to my identity.
Often a person’s identity is closely associated with the hobbies that bring them joy. He likes woodworking, she plays a lot of tennis, they love to go spelunking on the weekends. Most of these activities require some effort to achieve a certain level of accomplishment. Even Millennials, who grew up with the internet in its earliest stages, actually had to work for their fun. However, one cannot necessarily say the same about Gen Zer’s, who have grown up with an alternate sense of what it means to have a hobby. Want to be seen as an accomplished skier? Take a slope side snapshot, post it, and you’re in the game.
Today, what passes as a hobby or skill can be the mere appreciation of the hobby itself. With the world of information available at our fingertips, many of us feel we are masters of certain hobbies solely by watching or reading enough about them. This false sense of mastery diverges even more from reality when it comes to social media. The ability to look back and rewatch ourselves doing things that make us happy means that we can feel similar amounts of enjoyment while rarely having to perform the act. It’s become a constant choice between whether to make the effort to engage ourselves in the real world or to just appreciate the fun from the grandeur of buying the apron, fondant, flour, and having a sidekick capture the moment. When was the last time we actually baked for our own enjoyment, or the last time we even thought about why we like baking in the first place? Answering this question honestly may provide an understanding of how the seemingly deep and action-filled life we think we are living differs from how we are actually passing the time. At what point do we realize that we are not contributing to the progression of society by remaining observers and not becoming do-ers?
Of course, we can imagine many reasons why we gain more from our hobbies than our grandparents once did. Online networks let us share our passions with the people who love to see us doing ‘good things.’ Of course, it is rewarding to have someone reaffirm our capabilities. Similarly, the permanence of social media allows certain moments to live on, enabling people with physical or resource constraints to revisit their hobbies in a way they could not otherwise. Reliving happiness from the past saves money and energy. This could be considered a good thing — if efficiency is what we’re after; however, we should be wary of what we lose along with this type of optimization. One of the most important is our time. According to a GWI survey, people ages 16–24 spend three hours per day on social media, leaving very little time to practice new skills or perfecting existing ones. Is it valid, then, for a generation who spends the majority of their time looking at Instagram to claim that they have hobbies they rarely do? Personally, I don’t think it is. Tying ourselves to activities that we have not practiced often in real life might give us a false sense of accomplishment, security, and confidence in our own abilities.
We become a society void of substance when people stop producing. We become individuals void of character when we stop contributing. What if Louis Armstrong only ever watched trumpet videos on YouTube? Or if Bill Gates just felt really passionate about the concept of computer science? Judging by how many of us choose to appreciate things from a distance, it seems we are moving too far in the direction of cursory knowledge and away from hands-on involvement. Gen Z is growing up in a society where many people know a little bit about many fascinating things. Maybe the internet is great for finding our passion, but once we find it, we need to stick to it. The options can be overwhelming. Attack the things that inspire you or make you uncomfortable. Try doing them alone. Experience failure; grow with something. You will be a lot more confident and proud of the work you put in in the long run. At least I know I will be.
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