The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 5, 2013

Krohn: Hobbies break up digital assaults

By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer

— Hobbies rarely make any monetary sense. The sweater you knit or the bowl you turn can be bought cheap, usually cheaper than all the materials and tools you buy for your hobby of choice.

My inexpensive wood lathe chisels gave way to $120 high-speed steel models, then the specialty chucks and jigs. If I sold wood turnings for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t pay for my habit.

Still, we keep pursuing them and many hobbies seem to be on the rise. Some 60 percent of adults make some type of craft project during the year and core craft staples — things such as paints, adhesives and glues — have soared in sales in recent years.

Knitting and sewing circles are springing up more. The group events not only feed creativity but have people sitting and talking to each other face to face — an increasingly rare thing in today’s social media-driven conversations. (True story: Last week, I was reading through a long string of comments on my Minneapolis-based son’s Facebook page between him and his friend. At one point my son’s message said, “It’s kind of weird talking to you on here when you’re just in the next room.”)

Even young adults are turning to activities such as quilting, model making or scrapbooking, taking a break from non-stop digital assaults to create something with their hands.

Nostalgia plays a big role, of course. Marketing research on nostalgia suggests we are particularly nostalgic about things from our youth.

Many of the Christmas gift catalogs this year featured record players — those things we all rushed to throw away when cassette tapes and then CDs came out. They were, we were sure, dinosaurs never to return.

But the sale of vinyl LPs last year soared to nearly 4 million, continuing an unlikely comeback over the past few years. 

It’s partly the tangible joy of holding an album, appreciating the cover art, carefully setting the needle in the groove.

But it’s also a growing realization that there is something special about the sound coming out of vinyl — a warmer, soothing experience.

It’s a reminder that new knowledge and technological advancements don’t necessarily create the best human experience. Crystal clear, digitally mastered music — through its very purity — loses something.

Or as the Rolling Stones’ keyboardist put it when praising vinyl: “Digital is zeroes and ones, man, anyway you look at it.” 

Nostalgic hobbies aren’t always a harmless, enjoyable retreat to our youth. Sometimes it’s deadly.

The University of South Florida reported that retired baby boomers are dying in record numbers on motorcycles.

The 60-year-old might revel in reliving his easy rider days of yore, but his reflexes, eyesight and overall bike skills have eroded, said the university.

But in the search for a more tactile experience in a digital age, there’s something more at work than mere nostalgia.

When grandkids come to our house, they more often bypass the computer games and noise-making gadgets and dig out a barn, buildings blocks or Etch A Sketch.

A 6-year-old can’t have nostalgia. They, too, instinctively find the experience of hands-on creativity compelling. 

Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com.