Meet Bryan Henderson.
You’ve most likely never heard of him, but if you’ve ever visited the English version of Wikipedia, there’s a good chance you’ve read an article he has edited. Since 2007 he has made close to 50,000 live edits, the majority of them only to fix the incorrect use of ‘comprised of’.
Even though Henderson is somewhat of a Wikipedia celebrity and among the 1,000 most active Wikipedia editors, I first learned about Giraffedata’s - that’s Henderson’s Wikipedia username - heroic effort while listening to episode 14 of the excellent Reply All podcast. While being interviewed by Reply All’s PJ Vogt, Henderson was asked what I guess many people, including myself, wondered - especially after reading his 6,000 word essay about the use of ‘comprised of’: Doesn’t he feel that he is wasting his time?
Here’s Henderson’s brilliant (and somewhat paraphrased) reply:
“Most people’s hobbies aren’t something that saves the world, hobbies are just something, you’re doing it for some crazy reason, it makes you feel good. So, when people talk about wasting time, I mean, is it wasting time to attend a football game? You’re not really accomplishing anything there, right?” - Bryan Henderson
What I take away from Henderson’s answer is that if you’re doing something you enjoy, no matter what that something is, it’s basically not a waste of time. The notion of something being a time waster or not is a very subjective one.
Personally, I’ve often asked myself if I’m wasting my time when writing for this site. In every measurable way, www.vegard.net is a complete failure: The income I had from the ads in 2014 was a little under $27. At the same time, I just spent hundreds of dollars on new hardware to build VBOX4, the server that hosts the site. On top of that you have the cost of extra upload bandwidth to my ISP and the electrical bill from the power company. And that’s only the direct economical cost. There’s also a pretty substantial indirect cost: I could have spent the time doing something more productive, like working overtime, thus bringing in actual hard cash. An estimate I did back in 2012, after I had been writing for at least 10 years, showed that I had spent in excess of 100 days writing for this site. That’s 2,400 hours. Multiply that with your own hourly salary and you get the idea.
But hearing what Henderson had to say, I realized that I’m not wasting my time. Yes, I could have used my time for something more productive, but that pretty much goes for every single hobby (and a lot of jobs, too). As long as we’re not fighting world hunger or finding a cure for cancer, most of us could have used our time for something more productive. But what we’re doing is something we enjoy, it’s not a waste of time.
So, thank you, Bryan Henderson.
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