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Technology transforming the leisure world

By Taylor Gandossy
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(CNN) -- Floyd Johnston chuckled wryly when asked what he does to relax.

"We take trips," he said, referring to himself and his wife, Irene, a kindergarten teacher. "We swim, I walk." But in terms of time for leisure, he added, "We're pretty pushed."

As the head custodian at an elementary school in Seffner, Florida, Johnston says his job can be "pretty stressful."

While experts disagree about whether Americans are working more than in the past, they agree about the mindset of the modern American worker. Plagued by job insecurity, rising health care costs and weakened pension plans, the modern American worker tends to take leisure in snippets.

The leisure time of past generations -- characterized by greater social involvement and longer chunks of uninterrupted time -- does not exist for most of the population, experts say.

People often don't have time to participate in city or social organizations or even cook for their families, says Christopher Edginton of the World Leisure Organization.

"After work they're going out to dinner together ... then they're coming home," he said. "They're not necessarily going out and engaging in the same way as they did in the past."

The 24/7 global work-world "makes it impossible for people to do what everybody has always done in the past: to meet at the same time each week ... golf club, drama club, whatever it was," said Ken Roberts, a sociology professor at the University of Liverpool and the author of "Leisure in Contemporary Society."

"You can't do that -- your leisure becomes more individualized," he said.

The convenience and accessibility of modern technology contributes greatly to the "privatizing" of leisure, according to Tom Sanders, who helped manage the research team for Harvard professor Robert Putnam's book examining the state of the American community, "Bowling Alone."

"Technology makes it easier to get what we want, when we want it, while remaining entirely alone," he said in an e-mail.

"Think about the social impact of having to go to the symphony to hear classical music and interacting with others ... Now with CDs and iPods, you can listen to Bach all the time at home ... but also without the human interaction."

Between work and home

Thanks to technology, the home is no longer restricted to being a place of simple leisure. It can be a place to do work, exercise, listen to music, or watch movies.

Geoffrey Godbey, a professor of leisure studies at Pennsylvania State University, said the home as a center for leisure activities is not a particularly new phenomenon. But, he added, "There does seem to be more ... attachment to where one lives."

"There is the possibility now of just kind of moving into your home with exercise equipment and TVs, and iPods and cell phones, and Blackberries, and 8,000 channels and rental movies."

Americans in 2006 spent $145 billion on consumer electronics, up from $96.9 billion in 2000, according to the Consumer Electronic Association. The CEA projects $155 billion will be spent on the same goods in 2007.

Similarly, a 2006 Pew Research survey found that nearly three out of four adults would prefer to watch a movie at home than at the theater, as compared to 67 percent in 1994, the organization said. A majority of the survey's respondents said they were "just too busy" to go to the theater more often.

Work-related technology can also contaminate leisure time and enjoyment. Ask anyone who has heard the buzz of a Blackberry during Saturday brunch.

While it's theoretically very convenient to be able to instruct a San Francisco employee from Saturday brunch in Boston, being constantly "on-call" can pollute leisure time, according to Roberts.

"You can feel that your time is never entirely your own. It's very difficult to switch off."

Godbey says when free time comes on separate weekdays instead of full weekends it can be less satisfying.

"When you add them all up ... it looks like a lot of free time. But it's not what people want."

What people want is, 'I want to go to the lake for the weekend. I want to build a boat in my backyard. I want to do something that takes a lot of time in one aggregate, instead of a bunch of hour-and-a-half periods which are ideal for watching reruns of 'Seinfeld' and surfing the web for 45 minutes.'"

But despite the twists leisure has taken to accommodate America's changing work-style and lifestyle, Roberts said people still enjoy their leisure as much as ever.

"People enjoy it in a different way," he said. "The joy comes from no longer following routines that are laid down for you and doing things because it's what everyone else is doing.

"So we're not more miserable. On the other hand, we're not more happy."

Tech devices related to work, like a Blackberry, can negatively affect leisure time, observers say.

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