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When hobbies weren’t always considered a good thing

Six in 10 Americans started a new hobby during the pandemic, according to a survey last winter. This is presumably good news for essayists and academics who argue that “Americans need a hobby” and “Millennials don’t have hobbies,” and that “the hobby is dead” – having turned into the communications hustlean informal way to earn money while still working a regular job.

Hobbies occupy a sort of third space: They are not work, although they may demand many hours and much concentration, and they are not leisure, the “freedom provided by the cessation of activities,” as Merriam-Webster puts it. (They are part of what the Romans called otium.) They are “work” for enjoyment, not for pay.

The word hobby has an interesting history, and so does the concept of the hobby itself. Cultural attitudes have changed greatly about which ones are worth pursuing, and indeed whether having a hobby is desirable at all.

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