It has been said that having a hobby is a particularly British thing, when I was younger I used to spend evenings listening to REM albums while building model aircraft – many of which still linger in my mum and dad’s attic along with my old school books.
In the past some people have collected stamps, cheese labels and even old street lamps (which looked more like street theft in the BBC documentary on hobbies I’ve just watched while thinking about the subject of this post). All these activities though gave people ways to enjoy their leisure time and as we reached the end of the twentieth century technology was playing its part in hobbies whether it was in building kit computers, programming home computers or playing video games whose graphics required a kind of leap of imagination that would be unthinkable to today’s Call of Duty playing generation of gamers.
Hobbies were something to be wanted, something to share and talk about. Today though many of us grown-ups at least don’t have hobbies possibly because of the vast array of distractions from TV and the internet (and yes I’m aware of the irony.)
Ooh, QI’s on the telly, er, be back in a bit…
I have heard people saying that their hobby is buying and selling things on Ebay, others that when they’re not watching TV or down the pub they’re on Bingo or Poker sites so the prospect of making money is a major driver rather than the satisfaction of making something or completing a collection.
One area that had been fading but is now bounding back is computing as a hobby – and typically it’s a British invention that is leading the charge. Raspberry Pi began as an attempt to reverse the decline in the numbers of students going to Cambridge to read computer science which had once been the domain of many hobbyist programmers. A group at Cambridge identified that something had changed in the way young people used computers; they were being taught word and excel in ICT lessons at school (when I was at school I was taught about mainframes) and at home they used games consoles and PCs rather than the ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s of the eighties where part of the enjoyment was typing in your own programs.
What was needed was a modern Speccy – a low-cost computer that could boot Linux and be programmed to do whatever you wanted. The computer was designed and even before it went on sale its low-cost and versatility sparked the buried creative juices in hobbyists across the country and it has sold fantastically well and is soon to be Made in Britain too. The foundation set up to develop the computer has also had enquiries from developing countries where such devices can provide access to technology previously unavailable.
The little one-board computer will be finding its way into a myriad of homebuilt projects in the years to come as well as its original use in encouraging the next generation of British tech engineering pioneers.