The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

Here is a thoughtful essay on the fact that the leisure we all desire is actually fraught with significant dangers and temptations. Mark Kingwell (the author) is obviously a scholar and his writing cuts across the standard short-attention-span variety of prose that flows in the gutters of the internet (translation: this is not an easy read).

In any case the article is thought provoking and profound. He concludes with something significant. What to do with our time when we don’t have to work to put food on the table? That question brings up the greatest question all: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here anyway?  He writes:

“More profoundly, though, is a point that returns us to the original vision of a populace altogether freed from work by robots. To use a good example of critical consciousness emerging from within the production cycles of the culture industry, consider the Axiom, the passenger spaceship that figures in the 2008 animated film WALL-E. Here, robot labor has proved so successful, and so nonthreatening, that the human masters have been freed to indulge in nonstop indulgence of their desires. As a result, they have over generations grown morbidly obese, addicted to soft drinks and video games, their bones liquefied in the ship’s microgravity conditions. They exist, but they cannot be said to live.

The gravest danger of offloading work is not a robot uprising but a human downgrading. Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life’s ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place. Like so many of the standard philosophical questions, these ones butt up, however playfully, against the threshold of mortality.”

And this thought about our social media addiction is the best line I have read in while:

We are no longer owners and workers, in short; we are, instead, voracious and mostly quite happy producers and consumers of images. Nowadays, the images are mostly of ourselves, circulated in an apparently endless frenzy of narcissistic exhibitionism and equally narcissistic voyeurism: my looking at your online images and personal details, consuming them, is somehow still about me.”

Source: The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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