What’s a Hobby?

Posted 2009.06.12 8.06 in Hobbies by Stephanie

To me, there is a fairly simple way to define a hobby.  It is perhaps not exactly what the dictionary says, but according to the Encyclopedia Stephanie, there are a few criteria which must be met, for an activity to be classified as a hobby:

  • It should have little or no practical value.
  • It must not be related to work or school.
  • It must be a money-sink.

Let’s look at these points one at a time.

It should have little or no practical value. What this means is, in normal day-to-day life, whatever knowledge you have learned or experience you have gained through your hobby, should not be the slightest bit useful. Whether you collect coins, stamps, or 18th century European military short-swords, as long as the knowledge doesn’t provide any benefit to your regular life, then the passtime qualifies as a hobby. Bonus points if the hobby is esoteric enough that you bore everyone to tears every time you start talking about it.

It must not be related to work or school. In other words, if you work at a winery or wine-merchant, then being an oenophile doesn’t count as a hobby. Working at the post office would put stamp-collecting on the edge of hobbyism. Writing your thesis on the Franco-Prussian war makes your collection of 19th century European swords into research, not a hobby. Bonus points here, if the hobby is diametrically opposed to your work or studies, i.e. a high-tech hardware/software engineer hobbying at basket-weaving, or a construction-worker hobbying at dried-flower-arranging.

It must be a money-sink. Meaning that you put money into the hobby, you don’t get money out of it. That is, the hobby must represent a net drain on your account. Occasionally getting money from it is acceptable (such as through selling hobby-related stuff at a swap meet, etc.) but overall, for a passtime to be a hobby, it must cost (much) more than it might earn.

Admittedly, my definition of hobby will likely differ from others’. And I’m sure some people would disagree that a hobby that earns money isn’t a hobby (folks selling arts & crafts, for instance.) Nonetheless, I stand by my definition. Furthermore, I can think of a couple hobbies right away, which seem damn-near “perfect”, based on these three criteria:

  • Amateur Radio: The practical day-to-day value of ‘ham radio’ is (sadly) waning fast, due to the proliferation of other, more-readily-accessable means of telecommunication. With the exception of folks using radio-communication in their work, it’s esoteric enough that very few people would be benefiting on-the-job from what they learn with their radios. And it is most definately a money-sink; it is easy to spend several hundred $$ on a new entry-level transceiver, with the big fancy all-mode HF bench rigs reading several thousand $$ — not to mention all the accessories and other paraphenalia. Amateur radio loses some points though due to the fact that it is still actually very valuable as a public service, providing communications in times of emergency/disaster. And ham radio has enough diversity, with so many different aspects of the hobby, that it’s bound to provide other practical day-to-day benefits one way or another.
  • Aquariums: With the exception of marine biologists or folks who work at a marineland or city aquarium, it’s highly unlikely that the precise knowledge of how to care for rare tropical fish, or the ability to breed some obscure crustacean, or knowing how to bring contentment to the life of molluscs, is going to benefit anyone in regular day-to-day life. And as a money-sink, aquariums seem darn-near perfect: just to get started, one can easily spend in excess of $200 in ‘accessories’ just for the challenge of keeping $2 worth of fish alive. And it just goes up from there – starter tanks are typically too small to keep more than a couple fish, so one gets bored and wants more fish, which means more water, bigger aquarium, more equipment, and so it spirals upwards. A 50 gallon tank might cost over $1000 to outfit with the required life-support systems enabling one to keep a cluster of fish going. Of course the larger tanks allow one the freedom to spend more money on bigger fancier fish, and the cycle of spending continues…

At this point, you might think that I feel hobbies are pointless useless wastes-of-money. And you’d be wrong. I actually think they’re a required part of life – any time you’re willing to spend countless hours and dollars on something completely useless, means you’re doing it for fun and love. And those are the best reasons to do anything. Many hobbiests will ‘jokingly’ proclaim that they only go to work so that they can pay for their (insert hobby here).

As for me – I’m into collecting. ¬†Specifically, I collect hobbies. I’m a serial hobbiest. I get into something, get interested, learn as much as I can, then get bored and move on. I want to learn as much as I can, about as many things as I can.

Remember: The brain is a muscle, if you don’t excercise it, it will go soft.

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