Economists sometimes define hobbies as inefficient work. In other words, if you could pay someone to do your gardening and thereby gain time or money, that’s an efficiency. And if, in spite of the efficiency, you’d rather do it yourself, that’s a hobby. Aside from the fun or relaxation of doing something practical, there’s also the chance for insight.
Tell anyone from New York or Moscow that it was cold in Britain this year and you might get a pitying chuckle. But in a land without snow tyres or decent central heating, it was. At least, this is how I choose to explain my recent fascination with seriously heavy fabrics.
On the one hand, brands have existed for centuries as a kind of maker’s guarantee. Medieval English merchants would attach their names to bales of cloth, using their reputation to vouch for the consistency and honesty of the product. On the other hand, since the arrival of mass production, branding has been used to distinguish a manufacturer’s goods, elevate them, and insist on their exceptionality. Nowhere is this tension clearer than in the Domino’s Pizza branded Rolex Air King.
In the fifth smallest county in the United States, and the smallest in Nebraska, there’s a town called Arthur, population 118. Taking Fir Street, you can walk from one end to the other in about ten minutes, passing the bank, post office, and County Treasurer. At the southern end lies the old county courthouse and jail, said to have been the smallest in the United States. At the northern end, there’s a hat shop.
It takes a lot of work to make a map, and precious little to copy it. And since map makers, unlike novelists or painters, are all trying to tell the same story, it’s almost impossible to prove whether a competitor has stolen your work or achieved the same results on their own.
Our solitude is double-edged. It’s both an unprecedented restriction on basic freedom, and a privilege to be in the group who can safely be confined. But the experience of separation is not totally new.
There’s an argument that those of us who feel gloomy about the increasing sense of isolation never really had the things we’re now lamenting. And perhaps all mourning, like all thinking, is about the idea of the thing and not the thing itself. But there are concrete things.