Learning to ride a unicycle. Where do we invest our time?

I’m reliably informed that it takes thirty hours to learn to ride a unicycle.

Some people might take a few hours less, others a few more, but, broadly speaking, if you’re prepared to invest thirty hours of your time into this, at the end of it, you’ll have a brand new party trick and will have reduced your carbon footprint significantly.

By one wheel in fact.

This type of temporal transaction is fairly easy to consider. Thirty hours is long enough to put off the casual aspirational unicyclist, but short enough to be considered by the determined monophiliac. In a supply and demand economy, it’s a personal choice to invest my time where i like and, in this case, the payback is pretty clear.

There’s a great book sat on my bookshelf called ‘The Language Instinct’, by Steven Pinker. It’s 548 pages, and generally reckoned to be one of the better basic texts on language acquisition and visual cognition. I’ve quoted it widely and my copy is now fairly battered from accompanying me on many train journeys and being lent to various friends. The only problem is, i’ve never read it.

Sure, i’ve dipped in a bit, and i’ve skimmed through the index to find a good quote, but i’ve never actually read the thing. I mean, by any reckoning, it’s got to take a minute a page, so that’s nearly ten hours of reading. That’s one third of the time it’s going to take me to learn to ride the unicycle.

Playing the guitar is quite a challenge, but i put in about an hour a week. It’s a slow process. I bought the thing when i was 19 and we’ve had a fitful relationship ever since. Some of my friends are experts. Dan Tucker, guitarist with folk duo Tinderbox described to me recently how he would retire to his room at boarding school and just play for hours on end, day after day. By a conservative estimate, he might play an hour a day. That’s 350 hours a year or, to put it another way, maybe 7,000 hours since he took it up in his life so far. Now i’m no expert, but in 7,000 hours, you could not only learn to ride the unicycle, but you could probably ride it round Europe and still be back in time for your guitar lesson.

There are, of course, many things that Dan’s missed out on by investing this time in his guitar. 14,000 episodes of EastEnders for a start.

You can’t do everything, but you do choose where to spend your time. Some of it might be spent learning origami, some of it doing DIY and this week twenty minutes was spent paying a tax bill, but we all have to make decisions as to where that time is spent. Investing 30 hours in the unicycle is a lot easier to consider than spending 7,000 hours on the guitar, although it does mean that i’ll never be as good as Dan. He’s a specialist, a professional, and i’m an amateur.

When we consider the motivation we all have to learn (or to watch EastEnders), the time we spend always comes with a cost. The time i spend on regulatory training is time i’m not able to spend on preparing a proposal. Or writing to my great aunt.

When we’re developing learning materials, we need to consider the context in which they are to be used. At a basic level, they need to be worthy of the time we are asking for.

Nobody gives you any more time. If you’re going to learn to ride the unicycle, you’re going to have to make it.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Choices, Motivation, Music, Practice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Learning to ride a unicycle. Where do we invest our time?

  1. Richard Stannard says:

    I’ve spent time listening to Dan play and my current indulgence is to take time out to read your blog. It’s usually interesting and educational, but mostly, it’s hopefully taking me to the point where i’ll use some of that time to continue writing my own…

    Time is life.. not money.

  2. Pingback: Learning to juggle | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  3. Great work. Difficult to find a post of this quality.
    Thank you

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