Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Recessionary Diversions
Despite a schedule that affords me a lot of flexibility, I still usually find myself at the gym in the traditional after-work period, roughly between 5 and 7 PM. It's usually pretty busy around that time, and I've noticed it being more so this winter. A couple nights ago, though, I had some obligations during that part of the day and didn't get there until about 6:45. By the time I left about an hour later, it was so crowded I could barely walk through the place.

Business is booming for Netflix, another winner in our household--though that probably has to do more with Annie and me getting obsessed with "The Wire" than anything else. And I saw this article today suggesting that the video game sector is one of a very few sectors in New York City currently adding jobs; the piece also included a note that sales of games were up 19 percent for all of 2008. My brother manages a GameStop location outside of Philadelphia; he's told me all winter that you'd never know we were in a recession based on the volume of business they've been doing.

Clearly there's a substitution effect--or is it an income effect? Grad school was a long time ago--in operation these days. Obviously home entertainment is on the rise, and in light of what I wrote above I've recently found myself wondering if gym memberships--or even just actual gym use, as opposed to the common practice of getting a membership as a symbol of commitment and then never going--tend to rise when there's an economic downturn. At least in New York, this seems to be the case. (Evidently, however, our moronic governor has other ideas. What was that about rising lifestyle-related health care costs?) Meanwhile, theater and tourism are down, at least here in the city, and restaurants seem to be struggling.

The common trend here seems to be toward solitary pursuits: exercise, video games, even watching a movie at home. (This also makes me wonder if porn is counter-cyclical.) Movie attendance famously spiked during the Great Depression, though how that business will do this time seems less certain; some think it's recession-proof, others not so much. I think Andrew Sullivan wrote something last year about Americans in the current economic contraction, already in effect but then undeclared, again basically looking at a screen in the dark, but this time in their homes, by themselves or in small groups.

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