In the Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz recounts his experiences of his company Loudcloud coming close to failure. At a climatic moment, he makes a speech to his staff declaring the commitment they will have to show over the coming months. From pg 48:

“I have some bad news. We are getting our asses kicked by BladeLogic and it’s a product problem. If this continues, I am going to have to sell the company for cheap. There is no way for us to survive if we don’t have the winning product. So, I am going to need every one of you to do something. I need you to go home tonight and have a serious conversation with your wife, husband, significant other, or whoever cares most about you and tell them, ‘Ben needs me for the next six months.’ I need you to come in early and stay late. I will buy you dinner, and I will stay here with you. Make no mistake, we have one bullet left in the gun and we must hit the target

He initially feels guilty about asking them to entirely subordinate their lives to the company during this difficult time. But years later, he discovers that perhaps his staff enjoyed the experience when one says this. From pg 48-49:

Of all the times I think of at Loudcloud and Opsware, the Darwin Project was the most fun and the most hard. I worked seven days a week 8 a.m.–10 p.m. for six months straight. It was full on. Once a week I had a date night with my wife where I gave her my undivided attention from 6 p.m. until midnight. And the next day, even if it was Saturday, I’d be back in the office at 8 a.m. and stay through dinner. I would come home between 10–11 p.m. Every night. And it wasn’t just me. It was everybody in the office. The technical things asked of us were great. We had to brainstorm how to do things and translate those things into an actual product. It was hard, but fun. I don’t remember losing anyone during that time. It was like, “Hey, we gotta get this done, or we will not be here, we’ll have to get another job.” It was a tight-knit group of people. A lot of the really junior people really stepped up. It was a great growing experience for them to be thrown into the middle of the ocean and told, “Okay, swim.” Six months later we suddenly started winning proofs of concepts we hadn’t before. Ben did a great job, he’d give us feedback, and pat people on the back when we were done.

Can we see this as the pleasures and challenges of acceleration? While it’s important not to assume that because one relatively senior figure enjoyed the experience then all did, it’s nonetheless an experience which I think ought to be treated seriously. As I’ve argued here, there are pleasures to be found in acceleration:

  1. Time-pressure can be a symbol of status and flaunting it can represent one of the few socially acceptable forms of conspicuous self-aggrandisement available.
  2. Time-pressure can reduce the time available for reflexivity, ‘blotting out’ difficult questions in a way analogous to drink and drugs.
  3. Time-pressure can facilitate a unique kind of focus in the face of a multiplicity of distractions. If we accept that priorities are invested with normative significance (i.e. they matter to us in direct and indirect ways) then prioritisation can be pleasurable. This can take the form of people who rely on deadlines to ensure things get done. More prosaically, it can undercut procrastination by leaving one with finite temporal resources to utilise for non-negotiable obligations.
  4. Time-pressure can leave us feeling that we are living life most fully. If the good life is now seen as the full life then living fast feels like living fully.

Periods of collective crisis within an organisation represent acceleration of a particular sort: temporally bounded and intensely sociable. I think something of this is conveyed in the way Horowitz elsewhere talks of the distinction between being a ‘wartime CEO’ and ‘peacetime CEO’.

From In The Plex pg 185:

Sergey Brin even put a label on his cofounder’s frustration at the tendency of developers to load more and more features into programs, making them run way too slowly. Page’s Law , according to Brin, was the observation that every eighteen months, software becomes twice as slow. Google was determined to avoid this problem. “We want to actually break Page’s law and make our software increasingly fast over time,” says Brin.

From Ann Oakley’s satirical novel Overheads. A remarkable rant from a professor who has just been discovered to have fabricated the vast majority of his publications list:

The thing is, Lydia, few people realise how few books or articles are ever read by anybody. The average number of people who read an academic article is 4.6. Do you know how many books are published every year? About a quarter of a million int he UK and the States alone. Who needs them? I ask you! Most people write things just to put them on their CVs. So that’s what I did, only I put them on my CV without writing them. It’s been a kinda test of the moral status of the academy: a research project into ethics and everyday academic life, if you like. It’s been fun.

What we need, I often think, i s something like the set-aside mechanism of the Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers get paid for not growing crops, so we academics should get paid for not writing. As I have been, ine ffect. It’d make things a helluva lot easier. Just think: you wouldn’t ever have to update student reading lists, all those journal editors would stop harassing you to review books, students’d have more money to spend on beer, libraries wouldn’t have to keep expanding, and it’s be good for our eyesight as well.

pg 258

From The New Ruthless Economy, by Simon Head, loc 630-647. Taylor’s  experience of industrial resistance to his methods led him to replace this participatory aspect with an elaborate system of inspection and control:

But perhaps the most important portant contribution of Japanese manufacturers to the theory and practice tice of scientific management has been to develop what can be called its participatory side. Taylor himself envisaged that workers themselves could suggest ways of adding to the speed and efficiency of their routines, tines, provided that management always had the final say in deciding whether an employee’s suggestion was acceptable and exactly how the design and timing of tasks should then be altered. In the The Principles of Scientific Management Taylor wrote: 

Every encouragement … should be given him [the worker] to suggest improvements, both in methods and in implements. And whenever a workman proposes an improvement, it should be the policy of the management to make a careful analysis of the new method, and if necessary essary conduct a series of experiments to determine accurately the relative tive merit of the new suggestion and of the old standards. And whenever the new method is found to be markedly superior to the old, it should be adopted as the standard for the whole establishment. The workman should be given the full credit for the improvement, and should be paid a cash payment as a reward for his ingenuity.’ 

In Taylor’s lifetime the fierce resistance of the skilled machinist to scientific entific management so poisoned Taylor’s own view of the workforce that this participatory aspect of his doctrine was largely ignored by Taylor lor and his disciples. Their view was that improvements to the “one best way” were decided by management and then had to be imposed on a reluctant workforce: Thus Taylor’s elaborate burueacracy of planners and supervisors. It has been left to modern Japanese corporations such as a Toyota and Nissan to develop the participatory side of scientific management. To best understand how participatory Taylorism works at a company like Nissan, one must first describe the corporation’s unending ending campaign to improve productivity by speeding up the pace of operations.

But as Head notes, there’s a paradox here. Under the Japanese model, workers make suggestions which contribute to the acceleration of their own work: why voluntarily make your own job harder? In part this reflects the lack of institutional structures through which the demands of participatory Taylorism could be resisted. From loc 665:

It was puzzling to me why employees at a place like Nissan should willingly collaborate in speeding up their work routines, particularly since it was and is company policy not to reward workers who come forward ward with suggestions that are acted upon. It was clear that employees on the line were already working under great pressure. At the time I visited ited the Nissan plant there was a story going around about a visiting delegation of managers and trade unionists from BMW’s Munich base. After being shown the line, the visiting Germans were asked what they thought. After an awkward silence, one of the unionists remarked “Well, some of our people are over fifty.” It was indeed hard to see how anyone much over forty, let alone fifty, could long survive the pace at Nissan. So why should Nissan employees be thinking of ways to make the line even faster? 

One obvious explanation was that there has been no strong union at Nissan to place checks on management’s drive for “speed-up.” In auto assembly plants, resistance to speed up has been the a chief task of unions since the 1930s. It was the cause of the UAW’s first great strikes against Ford and GM in the 1930s and a leading cause of the UAW’s strikes against GM in the winter of 1997-1998. But the “big three” Japanese autornakers-Toyota, Honda, and Nissan-have kept the UAW out of their U.S. plants, and Toyota and Honda have kept their British-based European plants union-free. At its Sunderland plant, Nissan san deals with a weak union, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical trical Union (AEEU), once Margaret Thatcher’s favorite union. Representing about a third of the shop floor workforce, the AEEU at Nissan acts much like a company union that has given management carte blanche to run the plant as it sees fit.

However Head offers a further explanation in terms of the time horizons of the worker suggesting improvements, from loc 684:

For the worker, therefore, this participatory Taylorism involves a trade-off between tween the convenience of doing the job in a simpler, less burdensome way, and the inconvenience with speed up, of also having to do the job just a little bit faster. From the perspective of the assembly line, this saving ing of effort through kaizan can easily loom larger than the price to be paid with the seconds, or fractions of seconds, of speed up. However, over time these seconds and fractions of seconds can pile up.

From The New Ruthless Economy, by Simon Head, loc 149-164

From the early 1990s onward, the twin phenomena of”reengineering” and “enterprise resource planning” (ERP) have been prime examples of workplace practices built around new information technologies. Relying ing on computers and their attendant software, reengineering and ERP automate, simplify, join together, and speed up business processes. Reengineering and ERP do this by imposing upon these processes the standardization, measurement, and control of the old industrial assembly bly line. Despite their heavy reliance on advanced digital technologies, the two practices therefore remain profoundly “old economy” phenomena.’ nomena.’ 1 Reengineering was a buzz word of management theorists in the early and mid-1990s and then, like so many management fads, it seemed to fade away. But businesses have kept reengineering their business processes. In 1995, when the reengineering tide was high, a survey conducted by two of the Big Six accounting firms found that between 75 and 80 percent of America’s largest companies had already begun reengineering and “would be increasing their commitment to it over the next few years. 1112 By 2000, when the practice had morphed into ERP, the leading IT consultancy, AMR Research of Boston, could state that “most companies now consider core ERP applications as part of the cost of doing business, a necessary part of the organization’s infrastructure.”” structure.”” 

There is scarcely a business activity that has escaped the attention of the reengineers. In their early years, they targeted such mundane activities ities as the ordering, storing, transporting, and billing of goods. But over the past ten years, reengineers have steadily widened the scope and ambition of their activities to include sales, marketing, customer relations, tions, accounting, personnel management, and even medicine-“man- aged care” being essentially the reengineering of health care. For the 80 percent of Americans now employed in these service occupations, reengineering in its various forms has become a dominant force in their working lives. In the mid- and late 1990s, reengineering evolved into ERP, a form of hyper-reengineering that brings together single business processes and tries to weld them into giant mega-processes. Led by the German software maker SAP, the reengineers of ERP are inspired by a vision in which business processes great and small-from the ordering of office furniture to the drawing up of strategic plans-all can be made to operate erate together with the smooth predictability of the mass production plant. But getting these ERP systems to work is turning out to be much more difficult than corporate reengineers had expected, and the subversive versive figure of Rube Goldberg and his fantastic machines keep peeping ing out from ERP’s sprawling, unwieldy structures.

From Countdown to Zero Day, by Kim Zetter, loc 1000-1018:

When Chien joined Symantec, antivirus researchers were like the Maytag repairman in those iconic ads— they had a lot of downtime. Viruses were still rare and tended to spread slowly via floppy disks and the “sneaker net”— carried from one computer to another by hand. Customers who thought they were infected with a virus would mail the suspicious file on a floppy disk to Symantec, where it might sit in a desk tray for a week or more before Chien or one of his colleagues wandered by and picked it up. Most of the time, the files turned out to be benign. But occasionally, they found a malicious specimen. When that occurred, they dashed off some signatures to detect it, then threw them onto another floppy disk and mailed it back to the customer along with instructions for updating their virus scanner. 

It wasn’t long, though, before malware evolved and the landscape changed. The introduction of Microsoft Windows 98 and Office, along with the expanding internet and proliferation of e- mail, spawned rapid- spreading viruses and network worms that propagated to millions of machines in a matter of minutes. The Melissa virus in 1999 was one of the most notorious. Launched by a thirty- one- year- old New Jersey programmer named David Smith, it came embedded in a Word document that Smith posted to the newsgroup. Smith knew his target audience well— he enticed them to open the file by claiming it contained usernames and passwords to access porn sites. Once opened, Melissa exploited a vulnerability in the macro function of Microsoft Word and e- mailed itself to the first fifty contacts in the victim’s Outlook address book. Within three days the world’s first mass- mailing virus had spread to more than 100,000 machines, a spectacular record at the time, but quaint by today’s standards. In addition to spreading via Outlook, it slipped a nerdy Scrabble reference into documents on infected machines: “twenty- two, plus triple- word- score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game’s over. I’m outta here.” 

Melissa was relatively benign, but it opened the way to other fast- moving viruses and worms that would dominate headlines for years. 3 As the threat landscape expanded, Symantec realized it needed to halt infections faster, before they began to spread. When the company first entered the antivirus business, it was considered a good response time to turn a threat around— from discovery to delivery of signatures— within a week. But Symantec aimed to reduce this to less than a day. To accomplish this, the company needed analysts in multiple time zones to spot viruses in the wild when they first appeared and get signatures out to US customers before they woke up and began clicking on malicious e- mail attachments.

From Jony Ive, by Leander Kahney, pg 72:

The production schedules also got shorter and shorter. When Brunner first started at Apple, the product development cycle was eighteen months or more. ‘It was crazy generous,’ Brunner said. ‘You had an amazing amount of time to make something work.’ Within a couple of years, however, the product development cycle shrank to twelve months, then nine, and sometimes even six months if the product was needed in a hurry. ‘All of a sudden, what got compressed was our thinking time,’ Brunner said. ‘It still took just as long to implement something, but the time to explore, to test and to play with, just went away.’

This is an interesting example of what I write about as cognitive triage*. The acceleration of working life, in this case driven by the intensified tempo of product development, leads to a prioritisation of urgent requirements at the expense of non-urgent but nonetheless important aspects of a process. This changes what actors within the organisation do with effects that manifest themselves both aggregatively and collectively: the organisation comes to be populated by collections of individuals who orientate themselves differently to their work and action they may or may not take collectively is inflected through these changes in individuals.

*The term was originally used by the journalist Kevin Roose in a superb book about young financiers. At some point I want to try and contact him to see what he makes of my subsequent use of the idea.

I’ve written in the past about the pleasures of acceleration, how speeding up can prove satisfying because of the opportunities it can present for evading difficult issues that an actor might otherwise find themselves forced to confront. There’s a really interesting section in Addiction By Design pg 54 which speaks to this idea:

Speed is a critical element of the zone experience. “I play really fast,” a middle- aged tax accountant named Shelly told me. “I don’t like to wait, I want to know what’s gonna come out. If a machine is slow, I move to a faster one.” “I usually play just with one hand,” said a college student named Julie; “you probably couldn’t even see the cards, that’s how fast I go” (her eyes widened and glazed over in front of an imaginary screen, index finger punching rapidly). Gambling addicts speak of speed as a kind of skill, even when it leads them to miss hands they might have won. 9 “Sometimes I’d get into such a rhythm on the machine that I’d mistakenly discard winning hands,” recalled Sharon, whom we met in the introduction. “It was more about keeping the pace than making the right decisions.” “Keeping the pace” is critical to the zone experience, as gamblers articulate. “The speed is relaxing,” said Lola, a buffet waitress and mother of four. “It’s not exactly excitement; it’s calm, like a tranquilizer. It gets me into the zone.” Randall, an electronics technician in his late forties, has a long- standing penchant for vehicles that enable him to escape with speed— motorcycles, racing dragsters, and video poker. “In a very paradoxical way,” he reflected, “the speed of it slows me down. Both the fact that I’m in motion and the risk of it are calming, and kind of mechanical.” As he recognizes, a mechanically mediated tempo functions as a form of predictability that structures and regulates his play, transforming risk into rhythm. As long as gamblers hold their speed steady, it suspends them in the holding pattern of the zone.

ht Su Oman. Wish I could apply for this. Shared in the hope others can.

ERRANS, in Time
ICI Fellowships for 2016-18 

The ICI Berlin announces ten post-doctoral fellowships for the Academic Years 2016-18 

Conceptions of time and varied modes of temporal experience seem more at odds now than ever. Hamlet’s hunch – that ‘the time is out of joint’ – has turned into an evergreen of critical discourse. Admittedly, ideas of physical, social, revolutionary time, internal time consciousness, or historical experience are far from settled in their respective discourses and practices. Yet attempts to harmonize or correlate the understanding of time and temporal phenomena generated in different disciplines all-too quickly – and largely with violent effect – resort to normative, if not teleological ideas of progress, efficiency, narrative sense-making, or experiential plenitude.

The rich traditions of critical thinking about time that challenge such normative ideas can, however, appear complicit with the new temporal regimes of capitalism. For example, they are marked by the increase of flexitime in the workplace, celebrations of discontinued employment, even obsolescence as ‘reinventions of the self’. Additionally, the fact that the time of cyclical crises proper to capitalism has been rendered opaque by the proliferation of hedging and speculating on ‘futures’ or that high-frequency trade algorithms enable transactions at posthuman speeds. With acceleration having reached the point of evoking no longer progress but ideas of a ‘frenetic standstill’ (Virilio, Rosa) or the end of history, it would indeed seem that radical opposition to a particular temporal mode – such as linearly progressing time – is neither sufficient nor necessary, but, rather, risks proving counter-productive.

In this second instalment of the Core Project ERRANS, we ask whether the heterogeneous relations between discordant conceptions of time and temporality can be understood as being ‘erratically’ structured, that is, as marked by inherent misapprehensions, a dissonance that defies regulation, and an unexpected variability. For example, boredom or suspense challenges our confidence in the homogeneity of the flow of time; for Fanon, decolonial struggle creates a new human being, but can only do so by reworking the entire past from its very beginning; involuntary memory undermines the supposedly cumulative experience of time throughout a lifetime; Kristeva’s notion of ‘women’s time’ and queer temporalities reveal the (hetero)normative investments in the naturalized time of reproduction; psychotic experiences of homogeneous time unsettle our confidence that linear time is intelligible at all, as do the divergent modifications of Newtonian time by statistical, relativistic, and quantum mechanics; and the explosive potential of temporal standstill undoes the dynamist model for ‘revolution’ inherited from premodern theories of planetary motion.

The different temporal forms of erring provide a possible point of departure. Thus, Homer’s Odyssey juxtaposes its hero’s classical errantry – frequently seen as anticipating bourgeois, enlightened, or capitalist subjectivity – with the errant ruse of Penelope’s nocturnal unravelling of the burial shroud she is weaving during the day. These modes of erring also need to be considered as gendered, as one could argue for many temporal categories. Penelope’s gesture presents a paradigm for radical, that is, ‘wilful’ resistance to the narrative strongholds on temporal experience and, by extension, to the dictates of the exploitation of labour time that only intensified with the creation of inactive leisure or ‘down’ time. Penelope’s unravelling, hence, is akin to the radically negative temporalities experienced in melancholia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, lethargy, or traumatic rupture, ultimately raising the possibility of an ‘empty’ or even ‘dead’ time. Similarly, neither the time that can only be killed nor the time buckling before the deadline, neither the crawl of monotony or tedium nor the unlimited expandability of imminence can be discounted as mere limit cases or pathological experiences, but would have to be taken seriously as errant misalignments of irreconcilable aspects of time.

A radical discordance of Euro-American time becomes most blatantly manifest in what Johannes Fabian has termed ‘the schizogenic use of time’ by well-intentioned anthropologists: interacting with indigenous peoples in one time and writing about them in another, they perpetuate a systematic temporal relegation that in colonial regimes was based on assumptions about non-Western peoples living outside of time and needing to be brought up to date or ‘civilized’. These vast lingering temporal injustices, but also the most modest temporal complications of affective experience remain linked to the peculiar afterlife of history – past the closed gardens of salvation and redemption, past (post-)Hegelian mobilizations, past other narrative closures. Much recent work on the temporal structures and textures of the everyday – changing dramatically in a media culture going ‘live’ 24/7 –, the monotonous, boredom, but also the event, trauma, catastrophe, or end, draws its power from a confrontation with the frames of history, enlarged, crooked, manipulated, or broken as they may be.

We welcome contributions from a wide variety of fields and disciplines, pertaining, for example, to:

Incompatible temporalities conjured up in aesthetic conceptions of vitality and vitalist legacies of the life sciences

Decolonizing metropolitan time, both questioning claims of belatedness at the periphery, and embracing indigenous epistemologies of time

A queer cultivation of nostalgia, complicating the relation to futurity

The relation of physics and philosophy regarding the complementarity of being and becoming, reversibility and irreversibility, or the entanglement of past, present, and future

The paradoxical mobilization and political value of an aesthetics of untimeliness

Media-specific temporalities in the constitution of the archive

The shifting valences of age and ageing beyond a teleology of deathbound decline

Temporal antinomies and narratological deviations in literature and other media

Controversies in psychoanalysis and theories of cultural memory revolving around the concept of belatedness/retroaction (Nachträglichkeit)

The importance of anachronism as a critical category but also as a deliberate strategy

Fashion as an ambivalent model of disjunctive temporalities

Ideas of survival, afterlife, and revenants beyond standard conceptions of tradition or genealogy 

The ICI Berlin invites scholars from all disciplines to engage in a joint exploration of ERRANS, in Time. We especially welcome applications from individuals who will contribute to diversity and equal opportunity in scholarly research.

The committed exchange between fellows is a central aim of the Institute. Applicants should be interested in a theoretical reflection upon the conceptual and intellectual basis of their projects and in discussing it with fellows from other disciplines. In particular, fellows will be expected to participate in the weekly colloquia, bi-weekly informal meetings, and other activities of the Institute, to contribute to a common publication, and to be resident in Berlin for the duration of the fellowship.

The fellowships announced are for the academic years 2016-18 (12 September 2016 – 13 July 2018). There is no age limit, but applicants should have obtained their PhD within ten years of the date of appointment or have fulfilled all requirements for receiving their PhD by 1 July 2016. Stipends range from EUR 1800 to 2000 per month. 

Interested applicants should read also the description of the Core Project ERRANS and follow the application instructions.

Application deadline: 6 January 2016 


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An interesting blog post by Nick Osbaldiston, reflecting on a study they undertook into the working lives of academics. The original focus was quantitative, with some of the findings detailed in the post:

• Academics in our study (n=155) reported working on average 9 hours per day
• However, Full-Time Ongoing Academics reported an average of 9.24 hours per day (9.36 for fixed term employees)
• Interestingly, casual/sessional academics were reporting an average of around 6 and a half hours – but we were unsure how much they were employed to do here.
• Research only academics were working the most over teaching/research and teaching only academics
• All cohorts (Full-time through to Sessionals) were reporting workingsometimes on the weekend
• Academics in our study reported around 2.79 leisure hours a day – however see below – with no differences in gender at all
• When controlling for caring duties and gender, we were surprised to see nothing significant in reporting of leisure hours (again see below)
• We found a weak correlation (r=.181) between work hours and publications reported to us in the study (still significant at p < .05)
• Most participants agreed with the statement that they feel more pressure to work harder and were mostly in disagreement with the idea that the university provides good options for work/life balance (though parents were a little more ambivalent here).

However they go on to point out that this is complicated by the fact that it’s “hard to ‘switch off’ as an academic because your identity is fused with it in so many ways”. The quantitative data on workloads is important but it doesn’t tell the full story because the work/leisure distinction on which it’s predicated often won’t map onto occupational realities very neatly. Take this blog post as an example: I’m writing it at 8:15am, I’m enjoying writing it, it’s something I’m undertaking voluntarily, it’s a distraction from work I am being paid to do, no one in relation to whom I am an employee will either praise or criticize me for having written it. But it contributes to preparation for a book I’m writing and surely the book is part of my work? Nonetheless, no one is paying me for the book, I have no part of my labour time allotted to it by an employer and any contribution to my career ensuing from the book exceeds formal structures of reward and recognition within institutions I’m part of.

Ambiguous features like this make work/life balance a tricky dichotomy. It makes sense within a structured career, where rewards and recognition are formally incentivized through an institutionally defined trajectory. People might move jobs but the career structure is something that carries between institutions. However the less structured this career becomes, the more activity that feels like ‘work’ (such as the self-development and self-promotion that become more crucial as a corollary) escape the formal institutional sphere of work. Throw in a portfolio career, all the more so if it’s motivated by ‘passion’ and the work/life balance dichotomy comes to seem remarkably crude. But there are institutional hooks, organisations still capitalize on personal motivation even if the biographical embedding of an individual within institutions becomes profoundly messier than it once was. As Nick argues, “if we overdo the idea that being an academic is a lifestyle and vocation, that we legitimize the intensification of workloads and pass on the need to ‘balance’ to individuals – all part of the neoliberal responsibilisation of the person“.

Therefore I’d like to understand the complexity of what I see as the intensification of work in terms of the multiplication of roles. Roles are, as Margaret Archer puts it, greedy: we can always do more and a crucial part of our everyday reflexivity involves negotiating between the competing demands of roles when we have finite attentional, temporal and emotional resources. In this sense, we can see the intensification of academic labour in terms of the decoupling of multiple roles from particular organisations (e.g. my role as an academic writer exceeding my connection to a university that employs me) and a growing greediness of those multiple roles which leads to a pull away from non-occupational roles. It’s a much more complex process than can be captured in terms of the blurring of boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘life’.

The culture of competitive sleep deprivation has reached weird heights in recent years. This Guardian feature, detailing the times at which CEOs wake up, gives some sense of the extreme forms this can take. Concern for sleep pervades productivity culture, most obviously on sites like Life Hacker, with sleep routines given parity to software choices in their interviews with prominent creatives. 

This emerging cultural politics of sleep is a really interesting aspect of what I’m trying to analyse in my new book as cognitive triage (or rather triaging strategies, driven by and in turn driving, the intensification of work). This ‘sleep deprivation arms race‘ tracks the ossification of opportunity structures across many careers, as well as an acceleration of personal resources being deployed for professional gain. As Lucy Rock observes,

Margaret Thatcher accelerated the sleep deprivation arms race when it emerged she ran the country on four hours’ sleep a night. From Donald Trump’s three to four hours a night to Bill Clinton’s five to six hours when he was president and Condoleezza Rice’s habit of getting up at 4.30am to go to the gym when she was US Secretary of State, minimal sleep has become a sign of your commitment to the job.

Angela Ahrendts, head of retail at Apple who was the first woman to top Britain’s executive pay league when she was CEO at Burberry gets up at 4.35am. She gets a headache if she sleeps for more than six hours. It is, she said, “my inspirational time, my time to find peace, to watch the sun rise”. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s chief executive takes between four to six hours a night; Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, a mere four hours. 

Now we can be plugged into the world of work day and night, it feels more than ever that to work more and sleep less is the way to the top. Knocking off at 6pm? Hmmm… the boss will be answering emails until 9 and her boss until 11 and as for her boss, well, she only needs three hours’ sleep a night.

But where did it come from? One part of addressing this question involves analysis of the pleasures of acceleration. But another concerns role modelling. There’s a great paper by Ismael Al-Amoudi which I need to go back to in order to develop my analysis of this in terms of modes of reflexivity. But meanwhile, I just wanted to record this little extract from the end of the great Bill Gates biography I’ve been reading recently. From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 10268-10287: 

“He is the world’s busiest man, bar none,” said Charles Simonyi, citing one trip that included “Eleven meetings in five days in Europe—you know, like there were days there would be two countries. And he doesn’t fly a private plane, either.” Gates still managed a schedule as packed as anyone’s, but as he headed toward his forties, he seemed to be modestly tempering his legendary workaholism—and seemed vaguely defensive about it:   Most people have an overblown view of how many hours they work. It’s hard: Working eighty hours is very hard. You can’t do much else if you’re gonna do that. So there’s lots of weeks I work eighty hours, but I think my average is lower than that. . . .On average I take every other weekend off. . . .I’m probably more like seventy average now. There are some weeks I work more than eighty. Like those weeks I travel to Europe: That’s all I’m doing, is working, sleeping, working, sleeping. So you can get weeks where I’ll put in over ninety. I mean, I assume you don’t count reading business magazines, the Journal or the Economist.   Upon recomputing, he decided that an average of seventy-two hours was the proper figure. Though in recent years Gates had vacationed in the Dominican Republic, Thailand, and Australia with his girlfriend, he could barely contemplate the idea of a longer period of relaxation: “It’s possible I’d take a month off in the next three years. I don’t know what that would be like. I’ve never taken more than a week off with weekends on both ends.”

How much influence did the first billionaire boy-king of technology have in generating this ensuing arms race of competitive sleep deprivation? What does he think of the results? What did he personally gain from this? Was it good and/or necessary for the business? Was it good and/or necessary for his self? I’ve argued in the past that embracing acceleration, pursuing busyness as something desirable, can function in the same way as drink or drugs to help ‘blot out’ unwelcome internal conversation. This comment by an ex girlfriend certainly hints at this explanation in the case of Gates, from loc 10287 of the same biography:

“I don’t know what he would do if he had some time to spend alone with himself,” said one short-term girlfriend who tired of his strange blend of selfishness and selflessness. “He has a significant data storage device. But I don’t think he has a lot of wisdom.” And she didn’t think he was all that happy either. “So many times he complained about how he’s got to be here and got to be there. You say ‘Why don’t you say you’re not going to show up?’ but he won’t do that. He’ll stand up for everybody, but he won’t stand up for his happiness.”

But of course, the cognitive costs of living like this will continue to mount up. This is why I’ve argued for the importance of zones of strategic deceleration. Gates pursues this in a more individualistic way. From loc 9826-9846 in Gates:

Shortly before the Akers flap became public, Bill Gates had gone to the Gateaway complex for one of his “think weeks,” a tradition that had begun on the return from Albuquerque, when Bill would take a week off to spend time with Gam at her place on Hood Canal. Alone with his thoughts, he would strategize, read, play with competitors’ software, and “write a lot of memos.

However this is a form of temporising, compensating for but doing nothing to change the underling process. I’m not sure how, if at all, the holidays he took can be included within this analysis. But they’re notable nonetheless. From loc 8242 in Gates, as recounted by an ex girlfriend:

Winblad even convinced Bill to take a vacation now and then by coming up with “reading themes . . . We had a physics vacation once, a biotech vacation once, and we had an F. Scott Fitzgerald vacation.” Winblad was responsible for picking and packing all the reading material.

This looks really interesting. I wish I wasn’t already committed that day, as I’d like to understand time use data much more than I do at present. Its deployment in parts of the acceleration literature is something that interests me more and more, the further I get into my current project:

The Centre for Time Use Research, University of Oxford are delighted to invite researchers from your Department to attend ‘Time Use in Britain’, a free Time Use event being held in Oxford on the 9th and 10th of November 2015. We would be very grateful if you could pass on this invitation to colleagues in your Department who may be interested in attending.

At this two-day event the CTUR will introduce four new data sources, including the release of UK 2014-15 data, and present a first look at our initial findings. The data launch will be followed by presentations from leading academic researchers, and roundtable discussions which aim to provide a unique opportunity for delegates to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue.

Day 1: “Britain’s Youth: New Data New Perspectives” with Keynote speech from Prof Robert Putnam. This will include discussions on Changes in Young People’s Time Use Patterns in the UK (1974-2015), British and Millennium Cohort Studies, and talks on themes of Health, Media, Technology, and Education.

Day 2: “Great Britain’s Great Day”. This will include the introduction of the new UK Time Use Survey, and discussions on Work & Leisure, Health and Policy, and Collecting the UK 2014-15 Time Diary Survey.

For the full programme and to register to attend, please visit our event webpage at:

From Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich pg 52-53:

One badge of membership in the super- elite is jet lag. Novelist Scott Turow calls this the “flying class” and describes its members as “the orphans of capital” for whom it is a “badge of status to be away from home four nights a week.” The CEO of one of the most prestigious multinationals recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his daughter to celebrate her graduation from college. He told a friend the two- week expedition was the longest they had ever been together. “They make a lot of money and they work incredibly hard and the husbands never see their children,” Holly Peterson said of the financiers of the Upper East Side. Their lives are driven not by culture or seasons or family tradition, but by the requirements of the latest deal or the mood of the markets. When Mark Zuckerberg rebuffed Yuri Milner’s first approach, the Russian investor, who was already a multimillionaire, turned up at the Internet boy wonder’s office in Palo Alto the next day, a round- trip journey of twelve thousand miles. In November 2010, the number two and heir apparent of one of the top private equity firms told me he was about to make a similar journey. I was a having a drink with him near Madison Park on a Wednesday night. He told me he needed to leave by eight p.m., because he had to fly to Seoul that evening. He planned to make the fourteen- thousand- mile roundtrip for a ninety- minute meeting. His putative partners had invited him to Korea just forty- eight hours before, on the Monday of that week. It was, he told me, “a test of our commitment.” When the European sovereign debt crisis came to dominate the markets in 2011, New York traders started to set their alarm clocks for two thirty a.m., in time for the opening bell in Frankfurt. Some investors in California didn’t bother going to bed at all. Wall Street e- mail in- boxes give you a flavor of the working lives of financiers, at least as they perceive them. In the spring of 2010, when the Obama administration first proposed a millionaires’ tax, an anonymous screed pinged its way around trading desks and into the electronic mail of a few journalists. It begins with the declaration “ We are Wall Street ,” and goes on to describe the intense workdays of traders: “We get up at 5 a.m. and work till 10 p.m. or later. We’re used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don’t take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don’t demand a union. We don’t retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill.”

Yesterday saw the news that ‘Infidelity site’ Ashley Madison had been hacked, with the attackers claiming 37 million records had been stolen. The site is an online forum for infidelity, a dating site explicitly designed to facilitate affairs, something which potentially provoked the ire of the hackers. Or it could be the fact that users are charged a fee of £15 to permanently delete their records from the site, the efficacy of which the hackers dispute. This seems to be indicative of a broader trend in which dating sites as a whole were found by the Electronic Freedom Foundation to have failed to implement basic security procedures and to be near uniformly vague or silent about whether user data was deleted after the closure of an account.

This is a specific instance of a much broader category of problem which I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: escaping the filter bubble. I use this concept in a much broader sense than Eli Pariser‘s original use in his (excellent) book. I see filter bubbles as being a matter of algorithmic enclosure but also of information security. In fact I would argue that the former inevitably poses questions for the latter, because filter bubbles rest upon the collection of personal information and intervention upon this basis. Filter bubbles always pose questions of information security because environments designed around them are always information-hungry and mechanisms of personalisation inevitably introduce opacity into interactions between users and a system in an asymmetric way. But I’d like to expand the concept of filter bubble to encompass the entire informational environment in which we find increasingly find ourselves deliberately enclosed through our use of digital technology. Not all of this is applied algorithmically but I would argue, somewhat crudely, we can talk about greater or lesser tracts of everyday life being lived via digital mediation in a filter bubble characterised by varying degrees of enclosure.

What interests me are experience where we don’t realise we’re in a filter bubble. The questions of information security don’t occur. We live with ontological security, sufficiently comfortable with this technology (something which personalisation can contribute to) in order to act ‘as-if’ the filter bubble doesn’t create risks for us. Will Davies offers an analogy which captures this effectively:

I have a memory from childhood, a happy memory — one of complete trust and comfort. It’s dark, and I’m kneeling in the tiny floor area of the back seat of a car, resting my head on the seat. I’m perhaps six years old. I look upward to the window, through which I can see streetlights and buildings rushing by in a foreign town whose name and location I’m completely unaware of. In the front seats sit my parents, and in front of them, the warm yellow and red glow of the dashboard, with my dad at the steering wheel.

Contrary to the sentiment of so many ads and products, this memory reminds me that dependence can be a source of deep, almost visceral pleasure: to know nothing of where one is going, to have no responsibility for how one gets there or the risks involved. I must have knelt on the floor of the car backward to further increase that feeling of powerlessness as I stared up at the passing lights.

But when this ontological security is punctured, we can see risks everywhere. What are people doing with our data? What could they be doing with our data? How are our online environments manipulating us? I’m interested in using ontological security as a conceptual frame through which to understand the urge to escape the filter bubble on a psychoanalytical level. As I develop this line of argument, I need to work on making the exact sense of the underlying concept clearer, but leaving that aside for now, I think it offers a really interesting frame for exploration. Here are the propositions I’m going to come back to in order to develop further:

  1. We are enmeshed within a filter bubble through our everyday use of digital technology
  2. The filter bubble is deliberately designed, indeed redesigned on a sometimes hour-to-hour basis, driven by complex and opaque interests
  3. Our orientation towards the filter bubble is extremely variable, even over time in one life, let alone between people

But for now what I’m interested in is how we escape the filter bubble. When we see the endemic risks, when the reassuring cocoon of ontological security recedes, what do we do? The problem is  that not everyone is equally well positioned to escape the filter bubble. It necessitates technical knowledge, time and energy. Some people don’t care but know what to do. Some people do care but don’t know what to do. Most people fall between these two poles at different points in relation to specific issues. What I’m interested in is how any definite attempt to escape the filter bubble leads to an intensification of cognitive burdens at a time of endemic acceleration. If everyone feels rushed, how does the urge to escape the filter bubble contribute to that experience, constituting just one more thing to worry about? How does this in turn contribute to the problem of what I’ve elsewhere described as cognitive triage? I can imagine an emerging profession, consultant digital escapologist, paid to help the cash-rich but time-poor manage their information security.

Well this is profoundly worrying. Even if it doesn’t come to fruition, it risks moving the Overton window in a direction that imperils the social sciences as a whole. What interests me though is the existing grant economy as tragedy of the commons this will further intensify. If the overall supply of funding shrinks, it’s rational for institutions to increase the pressure on departments and individuals to bring in grants (i.e. the process is becoming more competitive so our employees need to work harder) and it’s rational for those departments and individuals to apply for more grants in order to increase their chances of success and placate their ever more demanding employers. What does this mean for the social sciences as a whole? Ever greater tracts of time being spent making grant applications with ever decreasing prospects of success.

The 189-page “America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015’’ unveiled by the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology Wednesday sets specific budgets for the various research-funding directorates in the National Science Foundation. Traditionally, the foundation has set its own spending priorities for those directorates, but failed efforts last year by Republican legislators both set to establish Congressional control of those sub-budgets and set the budget for the Director of social Behavioral and Economic Science at more than $100 million less than usual.

This version of COMPETES renews that approach, calling for “$150,000,000 for the Social, Behavioral, and Economics Directorate, of which $50,000,000 shall be for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics” in both fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Given that NSF allocated $272 million to the directorate in the current fiscal year (with NCES funding in that amount), this represents a 45 percent reduction. The statistics center had a budget of roughly $50 million in the current fiscal year, and so the mandate means the directorate couldn’t share the pain evenly from the reduction.

Opposition to the current bill, such as from the Consortium of Social Science Associations (a Social Science Space partner), has focused on the perceived political management of expert peer-review and the message that social science isn’t worthy of federal funding. “SBE, the smallest of NSF’s directorates, accounts for less than 5 percent of the entire NSF budget,” COSSA argues in a statement. “However, the SBE directorate funds approximately 55 percent of all university-based basic social and behavioral science research in the United States. Its impact is profound.”

The bill is expected to be “marked up” — which can dramatically alter the composition of legislation — on April 22. Because both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans, this bill likely will set the agenda for debates on science spending, even if the Democratic minority introduces its own version. Ultimately, the key fight will be over appropriations for the agency in the two-part federal budgeting dance — asking for the money (authorization) and actually getting the money (appropriations).

I wrote yesterday about how obsessive auditing produces a profession which is incompatible with a normal life. Two interesting comments offered really important insights into this issue:

  1. “let experts come in and help you” – that’s the motivation, the creation of a massive industry of assessors, advisors and expensive literacy and numeracy schemes. Some people have got very rich from this.

  2. Performance monitoring is a technology. Its main thrust is to effect a ‘re-attribution of responsibility’ from those deploying the technology to those who become its objects. The main difference between schools and universities is that the technology is aimed at whole schools, so, e.g. so one can talk about ‘failing managers’. In universities it is the managers that deploy the technology. After all, it cannot possibly be the managers that fail when research rankings drop, NSS scores sink or student recruitment falters. I once worked briefly in an institution where academic staff ftes were linked to student fte recruitment. Academic staff ‘recruitment performances’ were monitored. If student recruitment fell then academic staff were laid off. Meanwhile the same institution had a growing ‘ Marketing and Recruitment’ department. This department was unaffected by any drop in recruitment – as a management department its ‘performance’ was not monitored. There was no monitoring technology to do this. Oddly, whenever the work involved in recruitment arose (producing copy for brochures, marketing in schools, dealing with ad hoc inquiries etc.) these were all directed to the academics on the grounds that they ‘best knew their own programmes’ etc. Staff in Marketing had standard non-academic appraisals so there was no performance criteria critical to the institution’s strategic aims in their personal record. The responsibility for all critical criteria are always transferred to staff who are positioned in such a way as to be least able to affect the context of those criteria.

    School teachers are simply in an absurd situation. Frankly one cannot have a good conversation while the interlocutors are focussed on a screen monitoring the metadata of that conversation.

What both point to is the importance of vested interests. My reluctance to understanding this process as governmentality is that it easily slides into a mystification of elites. The conceptual vocabulary utilised here tends to construct these outcomes as the operations of diffuse power rather than specific projects undertaken by those with vested interests in their outcomes: management departments, communications departments or consultancies etc. I’ve often wondered about what performance management regimes those working in university communications departments are subject to given how much of their output seems to be of questionable quality.

Incidentally, this is why I have such a problem with the emerging industry of ex-academics coaching graduate students. On the one hand, it could be seen as no different to private tuition, something which reproduces inequality through a market transaction. On the other hand, it could be seen as a direct interest in the processes of heating up the floor to see which graduate student can keep hopping the longest through contributing to the ratcheting up of the expectations inherent in the role of ‘graduate student’ and a tendency to talk up the problems confronting graduate students as a whole.

Overcoming your modernist training for constant improvement, advancement, development and accumulation. That’s what the social psychologist Kenneth Gergen advocates in the new introduction to his famous work The Saturated Self, as quoted by Harmut Rosa in Social Acceleration:

I am also struggling against my modernist training for constant improvement, development, and accumulation. Slowly I am learning the pleasures of relinquishing the desire to gain control of all that surrounds me. It is the difference between swimming with deliberation to a point in the ocean – mastering the waves to reach a goal – and floating harmoniously with the unpredictable movements of the waves.

This rather Taoist sentiment does not necessarily entail passivity, as much as an embrace of situational constraint. It’s probably easier to embrace as a life philosophy when you’re an internationally renowned tenured professor at a private liberal arts college. I think we need to recognise this privilege but it would be a mistake to dismiss what he is saying on this basis. We should take his life philosophy seriously, as well as the goods that it can lead us to:

The rewards can be substantial – the devotion of one’s intimates, happy children, professional success, the achievement of community goals, personal popularity, and so on. All are possible if one avoids looking back to locate a true and enduring self, and simply acts to fulfil potential in the moment at hand.

What Gergen articulates is one particular solution to a problem we all face: how to give shape to our lives? This has a practical dimension to it. Any plan for the future provides a framework within which present choices can be understood as moving us further towards or farther away from where we hope to get to. I think there’s a more affective dimension to this as well, albeit one which varies a lot between people for reasons that likely incorporate the social, cultural, psychological and neurophysiological. Our future plans create a structure for our present experience by constituting a sense of how the present connects to the future. It is in virtue of this that we feel our lives are ‘going somewhere’ or that we are ‘drifting’.

What Gergen’s responding to is the stress produced by the drive towards “constant improvement, development, and accumulation” when it operates under uncertain conditions. With the acceleration of social change, our experience comes to be characterised by instability, both ontologically (circumstances are unlikely to last) and epistemically (circumstances cannot be assumed to last). My plan to ‘play the game’ and climb to the top of my profession begins to seem implausible if the ‘game’ itself is seen as being in a state of flux. My plan to ‘lay down roots’ in a particular geographical area comes to seem implausible if the characteristics of that area are changing rapidly (or my ability to preserve these roots is likely to be interrupted by the demands of my a changing professional ‘game’).

He’s suggesting that it is our “modernist training for constant improvement, advancement, development and accumulation” which is the problem here. As Bauman puts it, “the site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries to take root”. Extending the metaphor, I take Gergen to be saying that our ‘modernist training’ leads us to grasp hastily at potential futures taking root in the present, trying to steer the unfolding of events but killing these roots in the process: an activity that fails to work and makes us miserable in the process.

Either we kill potential futures by grasping too hastily or we ignore potential futures because of our fixation on our prior blueprint. Trying to control the direction of our future leaves us failing to attend to our present. Instead, Gergen advocates we should embrace the reality of our present situation, act in ways that are valuable within it and cultivate an equanimity towards the future unfolding of events.

However the social world is not so ‘liquid’ as thinkers like Bauman are prone to suggest. While radical changes does occur, it is far from the norm: our circumstances are not transformed in each successive moment. Margaret Archer suggests that instrumental rationality becomes increasingly untenable with the intensification of social change. This doesn’t mean that people abandon it, only that strategic planning in terms of means and ends becomes error-prone to the degree that each is prone to change. The point can sound trivial in the abstract but when you consider the number of contingencies built into any ‘life plan’ that has been elaborated with any degree of detail, it starts to seem much more significant. The point is not that planning is becoming impossible but rather that it is becoming unreliable.

We might respond to this by building contingencies into our life plans and returning to them with much greater frequency. These changing circumstances therefore encourage an intensification of reflexivity, an expansion of life tactics to ensure the endurance of our life strategy. This will work most effectively when our ends remain stable (e.g. becoming established & recognised within a given profession that remains securely existent) and only the means are subject to change (e.g. changing expectations attached to this professional role, changing practical activity necessary to establish oneself within the field).

An alternative strategy is to temporise, reducing the window of time within which we seek to enact a plan in order to preserve the efficacy of our planning, as can be seen in the example of Spotify’s 31 year old CEO:

Ek describes himself as “missionary,” by which he means he likes to formulate five-year missions for himself. “That’s how I think about life,” he said. “Five years is long enough for me to achieve something meaningful but short enough so I can change my mind every few years. I’m on my second five-year commitment on Spotify. In two years, I will have to make my next one. I will need to ask myself if I still enjoy what I’m doing. I’m kind of unusual that way, but it gives me clarity and purpose.”

Without a window of five years, it becomes possible to “achieve something meaningful”. Ek might well have accomplished something similar if muddling through situationally in the way advocated by Gergen. But this would be a collection of actions rather than a project: it would be something we look back and realise we’ve done rather than a growing awareness of succeeding in something we’d sought to accomplish. However if advocates of the acceleration thesis are to be believed, it is likely the window within which instrumental rationality could be operative in a subjectively satisfying way will continue to decrease: the practicality of ‘five years’ as a unit of time for Ek cannot be assumed to be sustainable.

It’s against this background that we can see how planning can come to take on a fetishistic character. We look to our plans to secure us against contingency, providing us with a sense of security and direction in a world that makes the achievement of either into a precarious accomplishment. We look to ‘escape the mess of life’, as Ian Craib puts it, fantasising about a life in which plans unfold smoothly and taking the inevitable failures we experience in reality as invitations to plan further and plan better. It’s in view of this that Gergen’s suggestion comes to seem distinctly therapeutic, representing a regime of equanimity through which we seek to stop worrying about the future and start living in the present.

However when does equanimity become drift? When does acceptance become passivity? The instrumentally rational life plan operates at the level of biography as a whole and increasingly fails for this reason. The ‘five-years missions’ of Ek enact this strategy over a shorter span of time, ensuring the same motivational pay-off while building in uncertainty in a way that makes the missions into plausible undertakings. Gergen’s presentism embraces living well under current circumstances and accepting our inability to dictate the direction of their change. The problem with this is that much of what matters to us extends beyond our present situation. There’s a dimension to human experience, in which we recognise ourselves as having become the person we are now at this moment through a process that goes back far into the past and extends forward through the entirety of our life. Gergen’s account confuses the capacity to control our biography with the reality of that biography itself. His person risks idling away their life in a diverting and enjoyable way only to wonder in old age about all the things they could have done with their life if only they had looked beyond the confines of their circumstances.

So how can we shape our lives while avoiding the sisyphean business of life plans? By finding meaningful projects and cultivating the mindfulness necessary to attend to them maximally. Any project pursued in such a way is liable to change because neither self and circumstances are static. But our projects and the concerns in virtue of which they are meaningful to us constitute a thread through which purpose is enacted at the biographical level, linking the many situations within which we find ourselves over time through our projects and the meaning they hold for us.

In the previous two posts I’ve painted a rather bleak picture of the accelerated academy as a toxic environment in which an out of control metrics regime incites cognitive triage as a necessity to cope with the ratcheting up of situational demands. As things get faster, the possibility for withdrawl decreases: there’s always something else to do, providing a perpetual justification for deferring disconnection. My suggestion is that ‘cognitive triage’ involves what Jonathan Crary describes as “the incapacitation of daydream or of any mode of absent-minded introspection that would otherwise occur in intervals of slow or vacant time” (loc 1025). The greater the tracts of our lived life in which we are triaging, the less capacity we have for imagination and deliberation: we’re more prone to react to urgent situational demands rather than reflect on trans-situational concerns. We tend to accept things as they are rather than imagining  how they might be.

Physical events can be an important counterweight to this trend. However they often aren’t. They need a shared purpose and corresponding willingness to attend to the event. The event needs to be capable of synchronising attention and the broader environment mitigates against this: perhaps we should make academic workshops into ‘digital detox’ spaces and ban WiFI and smart phones? Individual habits mitigate against it as well. There will often be a reason to leave early, to zone out during talks or fail to engage in a way one otherwise might. I’m not sure what could overcome this other than commitment and the question of how to generate that in people is obliviously rather thwart. Nonetheless I’m increasingly taken with the idea of academic workshops as zones of deceleration. The annual Centre for Social Ontology workshop certainly succeeds at this but I’ve yet to encounter anything else which does so unambiguously.

I’ve often hoped that social media can help solve these problem. This seems counter-intuitive to some because of the speed at which it operates. But it is this very speed which short-circuits cognitive triage. The limited investment necessary in exploring a single idea via one blog post helps liberate the author from the need for temporal accounting. In doing so, it opens up the imagination. The limited investment necessary in a 140 character tweet does the same, encouraging conversations across disciplinary and institutional boundaries which might otherwise be deferred by parties to them, not because they lack interest but due to an inability to prioritise an extended conversation when there are so many other things to get done. My experience of blogging has been that the occasion for writing feels different for these reasons. There’s always a reason to write, as a communicative act rather than as something for oneself. It’s much easier to seize on an idea and, through doing so, enjoy experiences of writing like this:

The notion of revelation – in the sense that suddenly, with ineffable assuredness and subtlety, something becomes visible, audible, something that shakes you to the core and bowls you over – provides a simple description of the facts of the matter. You hear, you don’t search; you take, you don’t ask who is giving; like a flash of lightening a thought flares up, with necessity, with no hesitation as to its form – I never had any choice.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Hommo, Pg 68 (Duncan Large translation)

For this reason I think social media can allow the imagination to thrive. Furthermore, at present it exists outside of prevailing systems of audit. This is not to say it does not come with rewards – I’ve stumbled into a whole parallel career due to engaging with social media. But these rewards are not usually those upon which progression in the accelerated academy depends. On the other hand, there are many risks, unequally distributed amongst those engaging online. The normalisation of the activity might also simply add to the ratcheting up of situational demands. If one feels obliged to blog then this adds another, potentially endless, responsibility to existing writing commitments. Perhaps then intensifying a tendency towards surface writing rather than depth writing: rearranging ideas rather than developing new ones, in the way that is far too common in an environment dominated by ‘unread and unloved’ books. The metrics inherent to social media also seem as if they’re crying out for incorporation into existing systems of audit & part of my ambivalence about alt-metrics stems from this. I nonetheless look at my alt-metrics scores and feel pleased if they’re high.