27 Sep 2017

Great Ideas - Part 7: 'You have to actually climb trees'

From Great Ideas, 1:00 pm on 27 September 2017

An empty swing at a children's playground

Photo: 123RF

When was the last time you were bored?

Nearly 100 years ago, British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by now, we’d all be working 15-hour weeks and the biggest crisis facing people would be what to do with their spare time. 

By the 1950s, modern conveniences promised to make life easier, yet most of us still work more than 40 hours a week.

Now, sports and social club memberships are declining and most of us have a constant, nagging worry about how much time we spend staring at screens.

Series two of Great Ideas, recorded in collaboration with Auckland University of Technology, looks at the ideas and trends shaping the future.

In this episode, Megan Whelan discusses the future of leisure with three knowledgeable people from AUT: Dr Erik Landhuis, Professor Scott Duncan and Dr Sharyn Graham Davies.

“Our work is a lot more flexible now,” says Dr Landhuis. “Yes, I do more work at home. I think one of the reasons we do more work at home and outside the normal work hours is because of the devices that we have.”

“When I walk around, I see how much time people spend on their devices. I went to the beach earlier this year and I saw three girls... all they were doing was taking pictures of themselves having fun, instead of actually having fun.”

People end up experiencing nature through a lens – the one on their phone, Scott Duncan says.

“I often say this will be the first generation we’re raising which can unlock an iPad before they can walk.”

For many of us, what’s missing in leisure time now – and will potentially diminish even more in the future – is movement and interaction with other people.

Listening to music on your headphones is a very different experience to seeing an artist play live.

“Even things that were quite solitary, like going to a movie, there was something about that shared experience of looking at a screen and being in a room together that you don’t get staring at a screen or with earphones on,” says Sharyn Graham Davies.

“So even though the world is getting more populated and more crowded and people are living in cities and urban spaces... amidst all of that population we’re cocooning ourselves in many ways.”

It’s a matter of moderation and balance and making sure children, especially, get a chance to play in the mud and the rain as well as play with their devices, Scott Duncan says.

“Google Glass was going to be the big thing a couple of years ago – that turned out not to go anywhere,” says Erik Landhuis.

“Pokemon Go was kind of trendy last year, so we don’t really know where this stuff is going.”

“We know screens are good, I spend most of my day in front of them, but I don’t necessarily want to spend 16 hours a day in front of one.”

Part of play – for children – is learning how to estimate risk. Could technology help with that?

No, says Scott Duncan, because it doesn't provide real risk. Simulated risk doesn’t cement in the brain.

“You actually have to climb trees. It’s something that we are seeing it disappear out of the way we parent and the way our children are growing up... and the outcome of that I don’t think is necessarily going to be positive.”