Over the past 25 years, there has been a remarkable change in our priorities.
The importance of work has steadily declined (as discussed here) and in its place, leisure has emerged as second only to family and social interactions as the dominant concern in our lives.
This will perhaps come as a surprise to no one currently planning a holiday or even their weekend. Our free time, and what we enjoy doing in it is increasingly central to our lives, and other responsibilities – family, work and society might have to fit in around them.
But this hasn’t always been the case. Long term changes in working patterns, the ongoing erosion of traditional gender roles and technology use have led to a wider deregulation of life. While in decades past inflexible lifestyles and routines governed the rhythms of the day, today more people have more control over more of their time. Unsurprisingly, they choose to spend as much of it as possible doing things they enjoy.
Going back even further, we can see the steady evolution of today’s play-dominated society – from Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, which described a 19th Century in which leisure was a ‘badge of honour’ worn only by an elevated coterie. Leisure became a hard fought right for the working masses in the 20th Century, with more people gaining access not only to meaningful leisure time but also to holidays through the factory fortnight. But this free time remained inflexible and ordained, rather than autonomous.
Continuing to draw a dichotomous line between leisure and employment could be a mistake – today leisure is far more than simply the absence of work. Our identities are formed and wellbeing affected by what we do with our free time, more so than they are by our professions, or by what we do when we’d rather be doing something else.
Different – and at times paradoxical – factors influence the specific make up of these leisure (or even life) identities; what we do (whether inactive or active, online or offline), how we access it (offline or online) how we do it (spontaneous or planned) how much we pay for it (thrift or luxury) and who we do it with (social or individual).
Between defining ourselves by the presence of leisure time and the nature of it we defined ourselves by the nature and volume of our consumption – the consumer society. Vestiges of this remain in our leisure choices today – from conspicuous leisure (such as posting pictures of your latest city break online) to cultural capital (such as using your free time to learn a new skill).
The centrality of leisure will not diminish in the future, and awareness of this could lead to innovations and efficiencies. Elsewhere we have explored the importance of autonomy and control in motivating employees and improving productivity – the same principles can be applied in societies wishing to maximise the positive impact of leisure time.
Not all leisure time in the experiential economy must be spent binge watching House of Cards or playing Candy Crush (unless you really want to) – much of it can be spent elsewhere; helping drive the growth of community activism, volunteering, learning new skills or trying new things. These are the benefits of the hard fought centrality of leisure – not only for the individual but for society as a whole.
All this and more will be discussed at our Trends Breakfast on 30th April – if you’d like to attend, more details on the event are here