Spock with harp.jpg

Decades ago it was thought that the growth in robotics and an increasing focus on computers, would see most of us only working a few days a week, with way more leisure time on our hands. Hardly! What we found instead is that automation eliminates a lot of jobs entirely, requiring people to shift careers several times in their lives, or hold down more than one job at a time. More leisure hours? Not so much.

From that, I think it’s fair to project into the future that whatever provides us with an income will still occupy most of our week. But that doesn’t mean we won’t want, and need, leisure activities. There’s lots of evidence that hobbies and crafts are important for our well-being. Engaging in complex activity with learnable skills, continual room for improvement, and a concrete reward in the end, can foster feelings of worth and accomplishment and supply important diversion from stress. Researchers compare it to meditation—we can’t dwell on our other problems while doing it, so it calms us, lowers blood pressure and stress chemicals, and provides a range of health benefits from that alone. (Knitting has long been prescribed for soldiers returning from the horrors of combat.) Such activities have been shown to sustain and improve cognitive function (memory, concentration, and problem-solving), and maybe help ward off dementia. They can reduce the likelihood of depression (quilters apparently benefit from working with lots of colours during a drab winter), and provide lots of opportunities for social interaction with all the mental health benefits that go along with that, from emotional support to language skills to mental stimulation. The list of possible benefits from hobbies and creative pursuits is long and most could also be applied to playing sports, too, along with the obvious gains from regular physical activity.

Yet when we picture the future in our stories, TV shows, and movies, leisure activities are rarely mentioned. (There are exceptions: Hollywood seems to be convinced that high-tech gaming will take over our lives, and TV shows like Star Trek have always had more time to indulge in character development, including hobbies. The STNG characters playing out mystery scenarios in the holodeck is a plausible extension of present day game nights and the escape room boom.) Outside of TV series, though, we hardly ever see characters knitting, painting, making music, doing pottery or, for that matter, kicking around a soccer ball. SF novels seem to be especially stingy on this front. And believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I get that we authors are afraid to hold up the plot, but research consistently shows that what makes readers love and remember books is the characters, and that should include (at least briefly) what a spaceship pilot does for fun when he’s not on the bridge. Interestingly, a study of scientists found a connection between their leisure activities and their professional success—their hobbies often helped them discover solutions to puzzling problems in their work, so this could be true for our fictional heroes too. (Lots of potential there!)

Granted, it might be challenging to imagine future hobbies and crafts, but it can’t be harder than figuring out the kinds of controls a spacecraft’s helmsman will use, exotic forms of transportation between stars, or the mating habits of alien species.

There might not be a lot of call for knitted sweaters on a spacecraft with carefully-regulated temperatures, but on planetary colonies or research stations, why not? And people will always want to personalize our living spaces with unique art, crafted items, wall-hangings, you name it.

Men, especially, used to tinker at repairing appliances and small motors. That’s fallen out of fashion—not to mention that it now requires electronic and even computer knowledge as well as mechanical skills because of ubiquitous ‘smart’ circuitry. And woodworking might suffer from a shortage of raw material anywhere but Earth. But it’s possibly to envision a diverting pursuit of useful gadgets, aided by future offshoots of 3D printing or Trek-like replicator technology, and assisted by computers or neural augments.

Constantly-improving music synthesis might seem to make most physical instruments obsolete, but I think that playing a musical instrument (like, say, a spacey miniature harp) could well see a resurgence as we look for ways to reassert our individuality. The same could be said for any number of artistic pursuits. We already feel modern society reducing us to the anonymity of being “just a number”. Creativity and special talents are a way to fight back.

There’s no reason that astronomy won’t remain fascinating for many—the universe seems to hold endless mysteries—we’ll just have much superior instrumentation with which to watch the night sky.

If you want to think on the grand scale, we might someday have the ability to mould clouds, sculpt asteroids, or rearrange space phenomena like Saturn’s rings. But I think it’s more likely that, whether on Earth, fledgling colonies, or interstellar craft, limitations of space will force us to go smaller, perhaps producing ever more intricate models or even subatomic tchotchkes only visible with microscopes. Simply for the pleasure in making them.

I also expect that our current trend toward letting our communication technologies make us more isolated, with less real contact with people, will eventually undergo a reversal and we’ll seek out more in-person social activities. We’re social animals—we’re not meant to only interact by screens.

And let’s not forget that, as a species, we’ve always been storytellers. It’s how we pass on knowledge, relate to other people, and entertain ourselves and others. Maybe we’ll still write books—whatever they might look like—or maybe technology will enable any of us to create games, visual presentations, or holodeck simulations, and participate in them with almost anyone, anywhere. I can’t imagine us ever losing our love of stories. It’s in our DNA.

What hobbies or other leisure activities do you think our future holds? I’d love to see your comments.