Are Hobbies Dying?

A Recent Addition to My Stamp Collection -- Queen Victoria from 1899

I ask this question as a person who, until a couple of months ago, really only had the active hobbies of reading and writing.  The question came to me during my hunt for a Father’s Day gift.  My dad is one of those men who has a lot of stuff and tends to purchase the things he wants, so it can be hard to know what he does or does not have out of the things one would expect him to like.

When my wife and I were in a magazine store looking for Asimov’s and Fantasy and Science Fiction for me, she found the magazine Stamp, and thought it would be a good idea to give my dad that magazine along with some stamps.  I concurred, so alongside my science fiction magazines we picked up Stamp.

Then I had to find stamps to give my dad.  Canadian stamps weren’t safe, given that he’s likely to have acquired any of them over the course of his years of stamp-collecting, so I wanted to look for some British issues.  The one stamp shop I knew of downtown on Yonge near Adelaide was closed, but I learned of another upstairs on Yonge south of Charles.

Right.  My first trip there the place was closed on a Saturday afternoon.  When I finally did go, the place was dark, with counters ringing the walls where goods were possibly displayed.  Certainly there were the books of stamps to look through atop the counters.  Accessing any counters was difficult, though, given the gigantic heap of boxes piled up in the middle of the room and the presence of a somewhat odd man sitting amidst the boxes reading old editions of classic novels.  The man behind the counters was somewhat helpful, but I had little inclination to try and hunt for some neat British stamps to give my dad.  Thus I left the Stamp Market.

While this hunt was going, I was similarly hunting for model paint for a set of four knights my parents gave my wife and I for Christmas.  I had most of the right colours but lacked green.  Downtown did not seem to have what I was looking for, so I had to go out on the Danforth — at least it was still on the subway line.  My first trip out there was the same day at the day of the ill-fated stamp shop being closed.  Wings and Wheels is an excellent model shop, with a good selection of kits of various types as well as paints and some landscaping supplies.

So I had the paint for my knights (as well as a set of 1/72 scale Ancient Britons) but no stamps for my dad.  Using the trusty yellow pages, I was able to locate Central Stamp & Coin on O’Connor, which proved to be in the area of a friend’s house and quite wonderful.  I bought things for my dad as well as myself and walked to another hobby shop to pick up some orange paint.  There I learned of the Ontario Model Soldier Society’s annual show at Fort York, so I also went to that.

As a result of these shopping expeditions, I have got back into stamps and am working my way into model soldiers.  Model soldiers require a bit more effort and certainly more patience.  I think painting the red tunics on my Roman soldiers (1/72 scale — approx. 1″ tall) will be a school of virtue for me.

Yet the fact that there were formerly four stamp shops downtown and now one remains, and that one mediocre, makes me wonder if we aren’t letting hobbies slip through our fingers and out of our collective culture.  Sears no longer has the stamp and coin counters that Eaton’s had in the nineties.  Comics have basically vanished from 7-Eleven.  Toy and model soldiers are becoming more specialised to the extent that it is difficult to find high-quality ones, and then they have very high prices.

Instead of collecting stamps, coins, toy soldiers, and comic books, or making models, or writing poetry, or what have you, we are watching TV (either on TV or the Internet), or fooling around on the Web, or watching movies at the theatre, or playing video/computer games.  Instead of making music in our kitchens, we’re downloading it in our living rooms.

If anything is killing hobbies, it is our limitless resort to the entertainment industry.

But you know what?  I like laying out some stamps on the table and sorting them.  I like soaking them off the envelopes.  I like shaking little jars of Testors paint and trying not to shake as I dab shining silver on a centurion’s 2-mm-wide helmet.  I like — and miss — the clarinet.  Why don’t I play the clarinet more?  I like dancing — would that summer were not so hot!  (I’ll have to go to Edinburgh to do some Scottish Country Dancing there.)

And these things are no less fun than Corner Gas, Doctor Who, The Big Bang Theory, or the latest superhero movie.  So why do we opt for the entertainment industry over hobbies?

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