The Netherlands in 2041

Published on: 12 May 2021

“We want to experience it by actively adding something ourselves, learning, changing, improving, having meaning”

Are sports associations and allotment gardens already using social media intelligently? “There is still room for improvement,” says Van der Aalst. Old-school clubs still have the greatest difficulty in attracting volunteers and members. If they still want to be around in 2041, administrators and bosses must abandon the hierarchical approach, expecting volunteers to provide the hands. During these Covid times, gyms are already proving have a better understanding. They are offering online work-outs and customized programs. But your membership base, or rather, your community, really thrives in loosely-bound connections, as we are seeing in urban culture & sports. There, the adage ‘each one teach one’ applies. Everyone is teacher and student, trainer and player, in an open culture where people respect each other and give each other the space to set up and promote events. In our free time, we no longer want to just passively experience something. We want to experience it by actively adding something ourselves, learning, changing, improving, having meaning.”


The new hedonism

There is that word again, finally. Experience, the experience economy. For a long time, we didn't hear about that promise. It was heard mainly in the tourism industry. We used to want to be mainly entertained on day trips and vacations, to experience things in the sense of undergoing them, but now that is no longer enough. It is a little different now: we now want to participate, to engage. To contribute something positive to the local population by buying local products. Painting in Greece, cooking in Italy, tending cows at a shelter in Estonia, rescuing stray dogs in Bulgaria, helping refugees on Morea. “A small-scale, but rapidly growing form of tourism,” says Richards. In our day-to-day, fragmented time off we are busy driving the children to their activities and fulfilling other social obligations that have to be rushed through. During our two weeks of vacation, we are still too restless to do nothing at the beach all day. That is why we mix lazing around with learning, relaxation with development.”


Thus, our hedonism is joined by ‘eudemonism’. A higher kind of bliss that - according to the Greek philosopher Aristotle - can only be achieved through acts that promote the well-being of others. “This already showed up in the 1960s in tourism,” Bastiaansen says. “Then it flattened out in the neoliberal me, me, me times, but now it’s making a big come-back.”

Van der Aalst is also seeing that an awareness of the climate catastrophe, the depletion of the earth and the degradation of the neighborhood makes more people want to get involved in something. The number of one-person households is increasing, people are increasingly getting away from old social structures. They automatically start looking for new meanings and commitments. This can be done on a small scale, as a buddy or caregiver, but also in groups, by collecting litter together, fishing plastic out of canals, cleaning up the street. It is less every man for himself. We are seeing things less as consumers and more as citizens. But we also want to have fun. I expect that more and more professional events will be created around this, with music, catering, training, and competition elements. Connecting Dutch people and newcomers, allocating budgets, challenging them to develop attractive concepts from diverse cultures together, scaling up the winning concepts.”

“As soon as the furniture stores and amusement parks re-open, the woods will empty out again”

Turning inward

In order to escape all the events and social pressures, the leisure desires of others will be limited to doing nothing. Turning inward, doing things that don't cost anything. At most an hour’s walk in nature, as we began to do en masse during Covid times. But Bastiaansen does not think that this influx into nature is here to stay. “A year and a half of lockdown is not enough to allow nature experiences to nestle deeply in our system. As soon as the furniture stores and amusement parks re-open, the woods will empty out again.”

Richards doesn’t think so. He points to the greatly diminished “social legitimacy” of flying vacations. “Flying is the new smoking. And after Barcelona and Amsterdam, other popular cities will also start banning tourists. So, people will be going on staycations, discovering their own local areas. But nature will pay for that. Will nature be turned into a reserve in order to protect it from the crowds? Actually, we have no nature here at all. No primeval forests or rock formations. In the Netherlands, we create nature, such as the Oostvaardersplassen. Even though they are not open to the public. I foresee State Forestry Services or Nature Monuments putting a fence around our most beautiful forests and charging an entrance fee.”


Just like at the Safari Park, we’ll be riding in quiet golf carts on a track through abandoned fields and pastures returned to nature, where wolves and bears roam once again. Or will that not be necessary? Will we accept that many experiences are no longer real and settle for our VR glasses, safe at home on the couch?

“China already has a virtual zoo, Guangzhou Zoological Garden,” says van der Aalst. “I expect we'll see more of this as we move away from keeping animals in cages, just as we are no longer allowing this in the circus.”


Real life

But no matter how virtual it gets, Van der Aalst thinks, we will always want to share our leisure experiences physically with others, in real life. Games, festivals, concerts and events are leading the way in this respect. They are already more hybrid in design, less tied to place and time. Do you remember hunting for virtual Pokémons? That was already one continuous experience. More than just a live stream, the Roadburn metal festival in Tilburg now offers a platform to its loyal visitors, seventy percent of whom come from outside the Netherlands, so that they can have fun together before and after the event. The rapper Travis Scott appeared as an avatar in the game Fortnite for a ten-minute concert, attracted thirty million gamers and earned sixteen million Euros from the sale of merchandise and fees. He would have had to do twenty live shows to earn that much otherwise.”


There are plenty of earning models. Even though we, as well as the artists, are yearning for a live performance. “But even live, the digital will mix with the real,” predicts Van der Aalst. “In the Ziggo Dome we will all be wearing AR glasses while watching Michael Jackson or another dead artist. The ‘real’ very last concert of the Rolling Stones is no longer something unique and one-off. Because there are so many options, we are better informed of where else we can have experiences we like, and we will be going out more and exploring more again.”



Illustration Joyce Schellekens


How will we live in 2041? In a series of six articles, we describe the Netherlands of the future. How rich will we be then? How will we live? How will we work? How will we consume? How social will we still be then?

In this fourth episode, we are asking ourselves: how will we spend our leisure time in the future?


Did you know that out of the 112 hours we are awake every week, we have as many as 44 hours of leisure time? That sounds like an ocean of time to get out and spontaneously do fun things with friends. To go out and explore. But when we look at how we actually spend that free time, aside from lying around on the couch and staring up at the ceiling, a pretty ingrained pattern emerges. According to the Social and Cultural Planningbureau (SCP), 40 percent is used on ‘media use’, 30 on ‘relaxation’, 20 on ‘social contacts’, and the rest sometimes on ‘volunteer work’. Greg Richards, professor of leisure studies in Tilburg says, “And besides our media use, we also limit everything strictly to weekends, because during the week is all about work. The structure we give our live has been the same for the past fifty years.”


Will that still be the same in 2041? Peter van der Aalst, teacher of Leisure & Events at the Breda University of Applied Sciences believes that “by 2014, everything will be merged together”. He believes that the figures of the SCP reveal a dynamic in our leisure time that has been going on for a while. “Everything is mixed together. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t imagine ourselves being connected to the entire world from a small computer on our lap while traveling in a train, arranging a vacation on the spot, based on the opinion of many other people all over the world. Futuristic? These days, we just call it a smartphone and our eighty-year-old grandmother has one too.”


Mixing up free time and work

Not only is the way we spend our leisure time going to blend, but also our work times and leisure times will be merging. In 2014, will we even be able to still distinguish between the two? With AR glasses on, will we be outside somewhere, virtually scrumming with coworkers while we’re actually at home on the couch in our underwear playing a board game with our kids? “It is becoming increasingly difficult to disconnect ourselves from our work,” says Marcel Bastiaansen, professor of leisure and tourism. “As a result, our leisure time is becoming increasingly fragmented: splinters that we no longer experience as leisure time either. It is possible that in the future the amount of leisure time will continue to increase, but not necessarily the quality.”


Is it also possible that mixing up less work and more leisure time will lead us to see our work as something on the side, like a hobby? “I’m afraid that is only true for the creative professions, where we already experience a lot of autonomy now,” Van der Aalst says. “The digital nomads, who provide their communication advice from a sunny resort or a vacation home in Drenthe.” Or will the simple professions also get more free interpretation of their craft? The artist-painter, the cleaner who also arranges flowers and decorates the house differently? Or the other way around: will amateurism and unpaid volunteer work be reimbursed in the future? Transferring the last toads, counting the last butterflies.... According to the SCP, do we really want to spend less of our leisure time gaming online? At least, we are saying we want to spend more time with people physically and we want to do more volunteer work.

“Saying something is not the same as doing it,” Bastiaansen knows. “I do think we will increasingly become more conscious of what we are leaving all around us.” Van der Aalst points out that an important aspect of online gaming already is building and maintaining social contacts. “Often international, worldwide. And who is not in various Whatsapp groups for family, friends, coworkers or communities for specific areas of interest? These often also organize meetings in real life. Our social contact is only increasing, even though it can sometimes be experienced as fleeting.”



In the year 2000, American professor Robert N. Putnam wrote the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse of American Community. Although online life was primitive at the time, he saw how our social structures were increasingly disintegrating, how fewer and fewer people cared about each other. But in 2016, when the Internet revolution was already happening, he wrote an additional chapter to it, describing with hope the many initiatives he saw suddenly emerging. How small communities are reinventing old forms of volunteerism and social activism. Assisted in part by our smartphones.