As leisure time grows, either through reduced working hours or unemployment, there is expected to be a great increase in the use of microcomputers. Bill Martin and Sandra Mason report
MORE THAN 2,000 years ago, Aristotle made the comment that we work to have leisure. For him, leisure was a reality, since all the toiling and much of the producing was done by human slaves. For most other people then, and since, work has been the essential part of human life as people have struggled just to survive. Leisure has been, at the best, a residual and generally meagre amount of time.
Today, because of the introduction of computers and microprocessors, we are developing a new type of slave, in the form of electronic robots of all kinds. That represents a major change in our lives, which will give new meanings and new dimensions to work and leisure.
|'In 1970 the time the average full-time worker spent at work in a year fell below the time available for leisure'|
Perhaps, most of all, new technology means a growth in the amount of leisure time. That is not an unmixed blessing. Although people will need to work less, they will also have to learn how to develop their lives in the way Aristotle meant when he talked about leisure.
In some measure, we have already entered an age of leisure, with a milestone at the beginning of the 1970s when the amount of time the average full-time worker spent at work during a year fell below the amount of time available for leisure.
Since then, a typical worker's leisure time has increased by some seven percent to more than 2,500 hours a year, while the number of working hours has fallen to 1,950, including travel to and from work.
Less positively, we now have the large amount of enforced and maldistributed free time represented by more than three million unemployed.
With the expansion of free time and the need to find ways of occupying it in a satisfying manner, the development of the microcomputer, with its time-intensive quality in use, seems to be particularly, fortuitous. Certainly home computers will become increasingly important in people's leisure lives but we need to be realistic about just how fast private ownership of computers will develop and also about exactly how the machines will be used.
Without becoming involved too deeply in the psychology of leisure, it helps when thinking of the possible roles microcomputers might play in our leisure lives to consider for, what we use our leisure. It is possible to identify three functions of leisure which form something of a hierarchy - rest and recuperation from work, entertainment and the relief of boredom and, finally, personal and social development.
In the era of leisure we are entering the function of leisure as rest and recuperation declines in importance as the amount of work lessens and the effort involved decreases. That puts the emphasis in leisure time use on the two other functions of entertainment and self-development, both areas where we expect to see the microcomputer play an increasingly large part.
An obvious role microcomputers play in the area of entertainment is of being virtually an infinite compendium of games. They can provide an unending source of pastimes for those who wish to occupy their leisure in this way.
It could be argued that people could use a chess set or a pack of cards instead of a microcomputer for those simpler activities. The answer lies probably in the basic attraction of using new technology, as well as in the perpetual self-challenging quality of computer games and the wide variety of pastimes available from the one machine.
Once attracted to the computer, the games player is likely to look progressively for more complex games to play and may eventually take the key step towards developing improved or original programs. At that stage, the computer moves from being a source of entertainment to potentially a very time-consuming hobby, offering great opportunities for individual learning and development.
Many people have turned to microcomputers without any particular emphasis on games playing. Either way, and whether interest lies primarily in the hardware or software, all computer hobbyists have found a leisure occupation of absorbing interest. In the future, when there may be considerably more free time but possibly not so much extra money to spend on leisure, the time-absorbing nature of computing is a valuable characteristic.
In addition, as members of computer groups know, there can be a strong social element in the hobby, producing new friendships as well as a useful exchange of experience and ideas.
There are other aspects of what we have termed self-development in which we believe the microcomputer potentially has an important leisure role to play. By self-development, we mean the whole process of learning and enlarging one's mental and physical capabilities with the aim of leading a fuller and richer life.
|'By the end of the decade something like one-fifth of all households will have a micro bought for personal use'|
Naturally the microcomputer cannot take the place of weightlifting, jogging or other sports in improving physical capabilities but, as a provider or aid to educational and cultural development, it could have a vital part to play. Previously it was often people of leisure who went to university to enjoy the benefit of learning, often for its own sake; in the future, the micro will help to take learning to the homes of all who want it.
How quickly will all this happen? How soon can we expect to see a micro in every home, as some commentators envisage? How many people will, in practice, be encouraged to use this new gadget to educate themselves and their families?
Our forecasts appear to be somewhat more conservative than those of many others. We expect that, by the end of the decade, something like one-fifth of all households, some four million homes, will have a micro bought for personal use; others, as now, will have machines used both for the business and family.
Behind that view lies the assumption that microcomputer prices will fall to around one-third of what they are at present. An even sharper fall in price obviously would boost demand. We do not think a very high proportion of the 33 percent of households where the head of the household is over 60 years of age will be buying a microcomputer, even if it costs only £10.
Despite the growing amount of free time, the majority of people are likely to be fairly slow to recognise what the microcomputer can offer them. The attraction of games-playing is obvious but for many people the idea of leisure as a period of education is a novel one and, during the 1980s, most of the demand for educational use is likely to be stimulated by children's needs.
It will probably not be until the 1990s, when the first generation of children to whom computers are a part of everyday life become adults, that a real widespread educational use of home computers will develop.
Since many people, not least the unemployed, will be having a leisure problem well before then, we hope that those already keen on computing will do all they can to try to make our forecasts seem too pessimistic.
Aristotle probably would have enjoyed the challenge of microcomputing but even he might have needed some encouragement to take the first steps in this new leisure direction.
Bill Martin and Sandra Mason of Leisure Consultants, Suffolk have recently published a report on leisure in the 1990s.