In the classic 90s novel Holes, a bunch of young offenders are forced to dig up the Texas desert as a seemingly pointless punishment. A terrible approach to juvenile correction because, it turns out, boys love nothing more.Scroll through the hashtag #DiggingAHole which has over 11.9 million views on TikTok and you’ll spot two common themes: canines kicking up dirt, and scores of men all over the globe carving so deep into the ground you’d think they’re trying to high five each other at the centre of the earth.
This has become such an issue of late it’s inspired multiple appeals from weary girlfriends who have found their loved ones covered in mud. You may remember the guy who went viral when his partner discovered he’d spent a year creating an underground kingdom. A recent tweet inviting fellas to confess their dirt digging desires was a further reminder of this common hobby. So why are men such serial soil shifters?Adam Ceramic, a 38-year-old potter from Brighton reckons he's removed over 1,500 bags of soil from his garden that he's dug up over the years. “When I get the urge to dig, it genuinely is like an impulse or instinct,” he says. “I went out to fix our shed door once and then found I had dismantled the shed and begun levelling the garden.”Another day Ceramic popped outside to take care of an unwanted bramble, but got distracted by some rubble in the ground. His partner found him hours later in a six foot hole. Three feet deeper and they had a serious crater to deal with. Ceramic says the act of digging helps his brain shut off from outside stresses like his daily to-do list, at least until he has to figure out what to do with a massive hole after he’s made it. On this occasion he managed to turn it into an off-grid hot tub.
“It is something primordial within us all that connects us back to a time without technology,” he says of digging into the earth. “It beckons me outside once a year to reconnect and recharge.”According to Dr. Jacob Hirsh, an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto who has published research on gender differences in personality, there may be a specific reason boys are more drawn towards disturbing the earth.“Using one's strength to achieve a personal challenge could be rewarding for anybody, but the idea of a strong individual who can gain mastery over their environment is particularly congruent with masculine gender norms,” he says.“Engaging in physical activities that enhance this sense of strength, mastery, and independence could thus be appealing to men in particular because it reinforces their sense of manhood. Something about a man working the land with a shovel appeals to a basic sense of rugged male individualism, a feeling that can be fleeting in our modern lifestyles.”As far as the President of HoleSoc is concerned, the draw of digging is in the simplicity: “I've talked to other people who come to our events and we all agree there's something awfully therapeutic about it.” Charlie Mone, a 20-year-old Maths and Physics student at the University of St Andrews set up the society dedicated to aimless digging back in October 2021. It started as a half-joke. He’d been away on holiday to Gran Canaria with the lads where they’d spent their time creating a giant hole on the beach for no particular reason. They decided they wanted to continue the fun when they returned, so Mone made an official club for digging enthusiasts.
“I created an Instagram account and within an hour I had hundreds of followers, people from the university who seemed quite interested in getting involved with it. I didn't really expect it to go anywhere, but it kind of became this St Andrews phenomenon.”Now, every fortnight or so, members meet on the beaches of Fife to burrow into the ground. Around 30 people turn up each time, both familiar faces and new diggers eager to put their back into it. There are no official membership figures because everyone is welcome, including random beach-goers who often chip in. Though people are free to create spin-off holes, most commit their efforts to expanding the main dent in the beach. Mone says he’s never done a solo dig, and it’s the social element he finds most appealing. This community aspect makes a lot of sense, says Professor Jason Laker, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Men’s Studies. “Men often do things side-by-side like fishing, hunting, building and fixing things, etc. rather than face-to-face, which is stereotypically more feminine – like having a heart to heart while looking at each other.”Professor Laker says hole digging can also fill a void left by a lack of dazzling feats in our daily routines, giving men a temporary task that distracts from the ordinary. “Since the romanticised stories of difficult quests and adventures are not very compatible with domestic responsibilities and careers, it isn't unexpected that mini quests such as digging holes or climbing mountains - things that can be pencilled into one's schedule - would be a draw.”Still in his second year, Mone has big plans for the society throughout the rest of his degree and everyone is welcome to pick up a spade and dig in. There’s no time-limit at the HoleSoc events, everyone can chuck sand over their shoulder until they’ve worn themselves out. Then it’s time to fill it back in, a process that is significantly quicker than pulling the sand out. Although the activity started with a group of guys, Mone says the turnout now has an even mix between men and women. “You tend to find that a lot of the girls initially can be sort of apprehensive about it,” he says. “But they seem to be the ones who enjoy it the most when they actually get into it. It doesn’t seem, at least to me, that any men get more enjoyment out of it than women do.”@AndrewDidATweet