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Pixels & Atoms: The Perks of Having a Non-Digital Hobby

I've spent 20+ years of my life building things with pixels. Here's how having non-digital hobbies helped me feel a lot more balanced and happier.

Friday Focus

I have been building and running websites since 1995 and, having been involved a lot in SEO since the late ’90s, completely moved over to SEO in about 2010.

As such, I have seen all the web technologies grow up, expand, and splinter.

These days I’m finding that SEO is increasingly complex and I am spending more and more time reading, listening, and watching the information flow that’s coming in from a lot of different channels.

I can’t keep up with it all, that might be my age, and there is a massive fear of missing out.

It’s not like missing out on the invites to someone’s birthday party (obviously devastating), but I rely on keeping up with this information so that I can give clients the best advice available and that’s changing rapidly at the moment.

This alone can be stressful. I also constantly underrate myself, apparently but what do they know, and have imposter syndrome – I know a lot of people in SEO suffer in silence from this.

I have also known a few people who thought they had imposter syndrome but were in fact just rubbish at what they did. It is a thin invisible line.

So how do I not fall to the floor in a big tangled ball of insecurities every day? Well it’s a couple of things.

First off, I have distractions, some might call them hobbies, and importantly those distractions are not digital.

I decided that as I spent a lot of my life building things with pixels then it is probably not a great idea to spend my free time playing video games, or spending a lot of time on the web building another hobby site.

So, when I hit 40 I decided to craft my own mid-life crisis and went to a model railway show – well it was a lot cheaper than buying a sports car, or so I thought.

Starting a Non-Digital Hobby

I loved model railways as a kid but had left all that behind a long time ago when I discovered ale, women, and that I had to work.

Luckily the Model railway show I went to was a specialist narrow gauge exhibition – Expo Narrow Gauge.

What I saw there was captivating and brought back a lot of happy memories and feelings from when I was young.

At that show were three very small layouts built as a challenge in shoe boxes. This was great I thought – I could have a go at building a small model railway and the wife would get some new shoes. She thought this was a magnificent idea.

As it was the exhibition ran another competition the following year but not in shoe boxes, but to build a layout no bigger than a 1/2 meter cube.

I built an entry, I won the competition, and I had to buy someone some new shoes anyway.


The people who ran the exhibition encouraged me to join their society, The Greenwich and District Narrow Gauge Railway Society, which I thought was an impressive name, so I did.

And I am really glad I did because I made some really good friends and learnt so much from them.

This wasn’t a world of digital but a world of making things, a world of atoms, and glue.

Most of the members in the Society create the kits of model engines and rolling stock that other people build because there wasn’t much commercially available until recently.

The skills I had to learn and hone doing this were all physical – yes the web played a part in discovery, of course, but the doing was all atomic – getting my hands dirty.

I learnt how to:

  • Solder (a skill worth having).
  • Fettle bits of metal to make things fit.
  • Wire up electrical circuits without blowing things up (mostly).
  • Construct metal and plastic kits.
  • Scratch build buildings and items not available as kits.
  • Paint the models with weathering and distant techniques.
  • Airbrush.

And it has also provided me with a plethora of interesting tools! (Can’t have too many tools…).


I have also been out on the road exhibiting my layouts and helping other people run their layouts both in the UK and Europe.

This involved talking to the public (something I was always a bit shy about) about the layouts and techniques used to build them.

I have met the most incredible range of people with such interesting stories to tell, and have been to places I would have never expected to go to.

It has also meant researching a lot, which is mainly web based these days, but I now have a range of fabulous books making up a small library. Narrow gauge trains and railways are very diverse.

I do play games, not video but board games, and have weekends away doing this at least four times a year, to give the wife a break from me.

I even helped my oldest friend develop a very complex board game and created a typeface for him to use in it.

I also bake my own bread. After moving to the countryside I wanted a few lifestyle changes and found bread baking to be challenging enough to keep trying to get it just right.

Bread baking is also creating something new but this time it is really tasty! Check my Instagram for endless #seobread shots.


And secondly work isn’t everything to me anymore – I’m enjoying life more than ever the less time I spend doing actual work, and I really do love getting my teeth into a technical SEO audit or a migration!

All this gives me new impetus when I get back to my desk being an SEO and provides me with different perspectives and different experiences than I would otherwise have.

One of the most important of these has been problem solving.

With model making I soon realized I was looking at discarded things in a different way – could I use that for creating something? – and this has translated well over to my digital life.

I feel a lot more balanced and happier than I did before I took up narrow gauge modeling. I had been working 15-hour days for no additional benefit and was burning myself out.

Having hobbies have really helped me in so many more ways than I would have thought possible.

Toot toot.

More Resources:

Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
In-Post Images: Taken by author, May 2019

Category Friday Focus
Simon Cox Technical SEO Consultant at Cox and Co Creative

Technical SEO Consultant, Website optimiser and digital explorer, bread baker #seobread, modeller of small and narrow trains. Find me at ...

Pixels & Atoms: The Perks of Having a Non-Digital Hobby

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