This looks excellent!

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Special Issue of Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies

Back to the Future: Telling and Taming Anticipatory Media Visions and Technologies

Guest editors: Christian Pentzold (University of Bremen, Germany), Anne Kaun (Södertörn
University, Sweden), and Christine Lohmeier (University of Salzburg, Austria)

Digital media, networked services, and aggregate data are beacons of the future. These incessantly emerging tools and infrastructures project new ways of communication, bring unknown kinds of information, and open up untrodden paths of interaction. Yet digital technologies do not only forecast uncharted times or predict what comes next. They are, it seems, both prognostic and progressive media: they don’t await the times to come but realize the utopian as well as dystopian visions which they have always already foreseen. At the same time, all calculation of anticipations has to rely on past data that profoundly shape our ability to manage expectations and minimize uncertainties.

In these fast forward dynamics, the special issue of Convergence examines the futuremaking capacity of networked services and aggregate data. We ask contributions to consider: What role do digital technologies and data play in the construction and circulation of future knowledge, e.g., through forecasting, modelling, prediction, or prognosis? What expectations and anticipatory visions such as promise or warning do accompany the creation and diffusion of new media? Over the course of history, which imaginaries of social and technological futures have been propelled by the media innovations at that time? How do new media technologies and discourses contribute to the production and reproduction of
social time that is future oriented? How do they impact on the ability to exert control over the future?

Papers in this special issue will explore the future making dimension of new media and may include the following topics:

• Role of media in reconfiguring the relations and distances among present, past, and future times
• Communicative construction of differently vast and (un)certain horizons of
expectation
• Data-based modes of anticipation (e.g., prognosis, prediction, prevention, precaution,
pre-emption); calculative practices and other kinds of speculative accounts of
possible events
• Historical succession of past future visions around media innovations and mediated
social life
• Imaginaries of futures related to digital media
• Interventions into the plans, efforts, and processes of constructing futures
• Backwards-orientation of forecasting and conservative aspects of future scenarios
• New media in the production of simultaneity, coincidence, or (non)contemporaneity

Submissions:
Proposals should include the author’s name and affiliation, title, an abstract of 500 words,
and 3 to 5 keywords, and should be sent to the e-mail address no later than 1 December
2018: mediatizedtime@uni-bremen.de <mailto:mediatizedtime@uni-bremen.de> Invited paper submissions will be due 1 June 2019
and will undergo peer review following the usual procedures of the journal. The invitation to
submit a full article does not guarantee acceptance into the special issue. The special issue
will be published in 2020.

For more information please contact christian.pentzold@uni-bremen.de <mailto:christian.pentzold@uni-bremen.de>
The full CFP can be downloaded from here: http://journals.sagepub.com/pb-assets/cmscontent/CON/CfP_Convergence_Back-to-the-Future.pdf <http://journals.sagepub.com/pb-assets/cmscontent/CON/CfP_Convergence_Back-to-the-Future.pdf>

I came across the following extract in the Stafford Beer archive at Liverpool John Moores University. It is from a letter which Beer writes to his children, offering insights into the character of existence as a Christmas present to them. His use of the term poise caught my attention. I first used the term poise in a masters dissertation  investigating the agency of LGBTQ youth in their negotiation of sexual normativity. I wasn’t entirely sure what I meant by it then and I’m still not certain now, in spite of it being a category which my thinking often comes back to.

By poise I’ve tended to mean something akin to a skilful and confident embrace of change. It connects to an observation Helen Kara made about changing tempos. Her experience resonated with me and it’s precisely in those moments of change when I often feel I lack poise, unravelling slightly and having to reassemble myself in order to cope with the change underway. But there’s much more to it than that, albeit in a way I’m still struggling to articulate. It’s too early in my encounter with Stafford Beer to know if he means poise in the same way. Nonetheless the focus on feeling in command of oneself in a way that renders one less susceptible to the vicissitudes of nature certainly rings a bell. To have poise is not quite to retain your shape through change, as much as exercise a second-order control over the change that is underway.

Perhaps as Beer puts it, it’s a matter of holding on to your cosmic slice. This idea makes me think of the Deleuzian notion of lines of flight. If we conceive of this as an object of our own awareness, a sense of our own becoming in the world lurking at the heart of all life’s mysteries, poise is a capacity to take ownership of our line of flight. Not in the sense of control but in the sense of steering, made richer by contingency and more elaborate by uncertainty. Cultivating poise is not sufficient for human flourishing but I suspect it is necessary.

After the busiest few months of my life, I’ve spent the last couple of days doing what feels like nothing. I’ve been for a shave, bought a graphic novel, seen a (crap) film, had a walk, been out for dinner and had a massage. But otherwise I’ve just read, slept and watched tv. It’s obviously not the case that I have done nothing because I have just listed a sequence of activities which I’ve undertaken. But these have been chosen haphazardly, reflecting little more than my fleeting whims and my ready-to-hand preferences as I intentionally refrain from doing anything even remotely challenging.

This has left me reflecting on changing tempo in existential terms. What happens when we move between two periods of time with distinct and different rates of motion? The last few days have been a striking example of that for me, as I’ve moved from a crescendo of activity over the last four weeks (six trips in three countries, doing lots of work while I go) culminating in the Undisciplining conference in Gateshead last week before suddenly embracing nothing. My days have been increasingly defined by rhythms outside my immediate control, leading up to four days in which the closest I had to self-directed time was reading before bed. By changing tempo I refer to the pacing of activities (what do I have to do each day?) and their self-directedness or otherwise (to what extent am I choosing to do it?) but there are other ways in which we could characterise these temporal shifts.

The sudden transition into deliberate inactivity strikes me as interesting. Though it does occur to me that intellectualising the experience could easily be read as part of a pathological flight from rest which I’m prone to. I often feel strange when I change tempo. Many people do and I think this is at the heart of what people mean when they talk about coming down from events. The drug analogy works because it tracks what can meaningfully be called a different state of consciousness resulting from an (over) abundance of stimuli, a sudden increase in the quantity of interaction, an absence of time alone, a spatio-temporal break from normal routine or some combination thereof. But these experiences, returning to normal life after a specific intense event, should be understand as a particular instance of a more general trend. Put it this way: what do we mean when we say an event was ‘intense’? It conveys that much went on within a particular period of time. We understand these judgements because we recognise the intensivity of our days varies in patterned ways which are susceptible to analysis, even if sociologists of time are the only people who would use language like this to make sense of these patterns.

The opposite tendency for me is one particularly associated with when I lived alone. An extended period of working from home would often leave me failing to converse with anyone for up to a few days, beyond perhaps talking on the phone. When I’d then enter a period of more intense obligations, it would often be hard to get into the swing of things.  Certainly, the fact most of these were on the other side of the country from where I then lived imposed a spatio-temporal logic on the sequences which accentuated the change tempo. But I still get similar feelings now, even though my life is ordered in a way which makes the contrast between phases less stark and sharp than it would otherwise be.

If social synchronisation is unwinding then changing tempo will become an ever more common experience. If we can’t take temporal regimes for granted, as collective realities grounded in shared institutions, temporal heterogeneity within a life will become increasingly normal. Therefore I think it’s important we understand experiences like changing tempo, as well as the mechanisms underlying them and accounting for commonalities and differences in how we experience them.

ZeMKI international conference „The Mediatization of Time“
December 6-8, 2017

Conference venue:
Swissôtel Bremen
Hillmannpl. 20, 28195 Bremen, Germany

Organizer:
University of Bremen, ZeMKI, Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research
http://www.zemki.uni-bremen.de
Topic:

Recent innovations in the digitalization and datafication of communication fundamentally affect how people conceptualize, perceive and evaluate time to create the kind of world they live in. The conference invites participants to think through the interplay of media and data in respect of the way social time is constructed, modulated, and experienced. This allows to appreciate how new technologies and representations deeply affect the temporal organization of today’s media suffused societies, and it also sheds light on transformations in mediating time. We assume that mediatization as a fundamental societal change that interweaves with the development and spread of communication and information technologies leaves its mark on the ways we process and order the pace, sequence, rhythms and of social reality.

This conference invites to think through the role of media and data people have or had at hand to time their interactions, relations, and states of being.

The conference is organized by Christian Pentzold and Christine Lohmeier from the ZeMKI, Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research, University of Bremen in cooperation with Anne Kaun, School of Culture and Education, Södertörn University, Stockholm.

Registration for non-presenting participants is open until November 30, 2017. Please register with an e-mail to mediatizedtime@uni-bremen.de <mailto:mediatizedtime@uni-bremen.de>, providing your full name, your affiliation and postal address as well as your status: (1) undergraduate/doctoral student or (2) postdoc/professor/other. The registration fee for status group (1) is 20 euro and for status group (2) 40 euro, not including the conference dinner. The registration is only valid with a written confirmation by the conference team.

Participants can book hotel rooms for special conference rates at the Hotel Bremer Haus <https://www.google.de/maps/place/Novum+Hotel+Bremer+Haus/@53.080269,8.816544,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xa6937aadfdd13625?sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwikr-aQ0NvWAhVDBsAKHY5yBZcQ_BIImwEwCg> (code: “Mediatized Time”) and Star Inn Bremen <https://www.google.de/maps/place/Star+Inn+Hotel+Premium+Bremen+Columbus,+by+Quality/@53.0822375,8.8093874,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x47b1281208a44ec3:0x65076cdb209c6922!8m2!3d53.0822375!4d8.8115761> (code: “Mediatized Time”) by the end of October 2017.

Conference programme

December 6, 2017

20:00
Get Together (www.canova-bremen.de)

December 7, 2017

09:00
Welcome – Convenors

09:30
KEYNOTE I:
*Helge Jordheim (Oslo U, Norway)

*Response: Emily Keightley (Loughborough U, UK)
*Response: Staffan Ericson (Södertörn U, Sweden)

11:00
Coffee & Tea

11:30
PANEL I: TEMPORAL (DIS-)CONTINUITIES
*Karin Deckner (U of the Arts, Berlin, Germany): Eigenzeit and media-based Eigenzeit as „Heterochronie“
*Tim Markham (Birkbeck, U of London, UK): Subjective engagement in an age of distraction: In defence of temporal discontinuity and ambivalence
*Christian Schwarzenegger (Augsburg U, Germany): Reclaiming Time from the Media – Disconnection and temporal autonomy in times of digital perma-connectivity
*Martin Hand (Queen’s U, Canada): iTimes? emerging practices of negotiation, synchronization, and coordination

13:30
Lunch

14:30
PANEL II: PLATFORM TIME
*Tim Highfield (Queensland Tech, Australia): Socially mediated moments and memories: Now, then, and the tangled temporality of digital media
*Manuel Menke (Augsburg U, Germany): Time as Contrast: Constructing Temporalities of the “Before” and the “After” Online
*Kenzie Burchell (U of Toronto, Canada): Managing the Platform Communication Environment: Observable Social Practices as Time Regulators and Time Meters

16:00
Coffee & Tea

16:30
PANEL III: MULTIPLE CHRONOLOGIES
*Maria Rikitianskaia & Gabriele Balbi (Lugano U, Switzerland): Wireless Around The Clock: Introducing Time Signals By Wireless Telegraphy in the 1910s
*Oliver Görland (Rostock U, Germany): Media Use In Situ: Dead Time and the Acceleration of Life
*Jean-Claude Domenget (U de Franche Comté, France) & Carsten Wilhelm (U of Haute Alsace, France): Recent French perspectives on temporalities in media and communication research
*Sabine Bosler (U of Haute Alsace, France & Olivier Thevenin (Paris New Sorbonne U, France): The Paris Series Mania Festival and the Attention Economy”

18:00
Roundtable: New Perspectives on Media, Data and Temporality (Andreas Hepp (Bremen U, Germany), Espen Ytreberg (Oslo U, Norway), Elizabeth Prommer (Rostock U, Germany), Lee Humphreys (Cornell U, USA), Paddy Scannell (U Michigan, USA)

20:00
Dinner (https://www.tenduere.de)

December 8, 2017

09:00
KEYNOTE II:
*Motti Neiger (The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew U. & Netanya Academic College, Israel) “”On Collective Vision: The Mediatization of Shared Social Future”
KEYNOTE III:
*Mike Ananny (Annenberg School for Communication, USC, USA)

* Response: Lee Humphreys (Cornell U, USA)

10:30
Coffee & Tea
PANEL VI: TIME IN/OF THE MEDIA
*C.W. Anderson (Leeds U, UK) & Henrik Bodker (Aarhus U, Denmark): Deep, Shallow, and Ecstatic Time in an Age of Data and Mediatization
* Wiebke Loosen (Bredow Hamburg) & Andreas Hepp (U Bremen): Where the future is already the present. How pioneer journalists construct the future(s) of journalism
*Sarah Kohler (Klagenfurt U, Austria): The Adaptation of Temporal Structures in Times of Mediatization: the Two Approaches of SPIEGEL Online
*Sarah Bishop (City U, NYC, USA): Finding the Time: Digital Storytelling and Narrative Fatigue

13:00
Lunch and Farewell

14:00
INTO THE FUTURE with comments from Peter Lunt (Leicester U, UK), Irene Neverla (Hamburg U, Germany), Johan Fornäs (Södertörn U, Sweden)

15:00
Departure

Conference website:
http://www.zemki.uni-bremen.de/en/events/conferences/the-mediatization-of-time.html  <http://www.zemki.uni-bremen.de/en/events/conferences/the-mediatization-of-time.html>

From David Frayne’s Refusal of Work, pg 173-174:

When today’s affluent workers come home after a hard day’s work, they find themselves in their homes, surrounded by objects that all represent invitations for action. In my own home I find a Netflix account bursting with viewing choices, a set of shelves crammed with CDs, a pile of impulse-bought books calling out to be read, and a fridge full of ingredients that need to be cooked before they go bad. In my less busy periods these are sources of much pleasure, but when I am too busy to enjoy them, they are nothing but sources of frustration. The possessions of the harried leisure class can all too easily become anxiety-inducing reminders of how scarce free-time can be. Crippled by choices and troubled by the scarcity of our free-time, we often do the only thing that seems feasible –we do nothing.

Does the refusal of work offer a potential release from this anxiety? From pg 179:

The appeal of takeaways was especially dubious now that Ben was more cognisant of the ‘big cycle’: the fact that working produces a need to consume convenience goods, but that the consumption of convenience goods itself reinforces dependency on the income generated through work. Given the extent to which many modern commodities –from pre-prepared meals to high-caffeine drinks, car washes, repair services, care services, personal trainers, dating agencies and so on –are capitalising on our lack of free-time, it is not surprising that many of the people I met found that working less was allowing them to save money. They were able to do more for themselves.

From Wasted Lives pg 104. Power is expressed chronopolitically through the capacity to electively withdraw from temporal regimes (or evade them all together) while influencing the way others are subject to them:

The drama of power hierarchy is daily restaged (with the secretaries and personal assistants, but ever more often the security guards, cast in the role of stage managers) in innumerable entrance lobbies and waiting rooms, where some (inferior) people are asked ‘to take a seat’ and kept waiting until some other (superior) people are ‘free to see them now’. The badge of privilege (arguably, one of the most potent stratifying factors) is the access to shortcuts, to the means of making the gratification instantaneous. Position in the hierarchy is measured by skill (or ineptitude) in reducing or cutting out completely the timespan separating a want from its fulfilment. Climbing the social hierarchy is measured by rises in the ability to have what one wants (whatever it may be) now –without delay.

One of the crucial ideas for my new book are the temporal implications of the escalation dynamics which characterise social media platforms. In his Social Media in Academia, George Veletsianos identifies precisely the dynamic that interests me. From loc 834:

[R]emaining visible on a social networking and fast-moving platform such as Twitter means that one has to share often and frequently, or else one’s voice and presence are diluted in the sea of information that is already present.

The problem is that efforts to resist dilution of voice and presence, the eternal struggle to be ‘heard above the din’ as Dave Beer puts it, leads to an escalation of the activity necessary for others to achieve the same objective. My suggestion is that seeking to be visible, if not necessarily a function of using the platform itself, will always tend to lead to an increase in the activity required to ensure visibility.

The temporal commitment involved in this activity might be individually trivial but it can prove to be aggregatively consequential, particularly if the same dynamic obtains across participation in multiple platforms. The result might be a straight-forward time squeeze, it might be rushing to finish other activities, it might be multi-tasking and it might be a diffuse state of perpetual distraction. But it has consequences for our experience of time.

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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From The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, pg 191. It’s interesting to compare accounts of working life in social media companies to those of early tech giants like Microsoft. What were once exceptional states, in which people devoted themselves 24/7 to work in order to ensure the success of a product launch, now come to characterise working life as a whole.

In the late spring of 2009, we moved to a new, sprawling campus in an old Hewlett- Packard building. Mark’s desk was purposefully positioned in the building’s dead center, on the lower floor, nearly underground. He called the building a bunker. We were starting to dominate the social media game completely now, to Mark’s sometime chagrin. While he wanted to win, he preferred us always to be in a state of emergency, on lockdown, so that we had to devote ourselves entirely to the company and its mission. Sometimes, when people didn’t feel stressed enough, he called official lockdown periods, during which employees were required to work on weekends and late into the night. Lock- down periods were often called when some new, other social product, like Foursquare or Tumblr, came on the scene and we needed to mount some serious resistance by incorporating a version of it into Facebook’s feature set, like the Places product (Facebook’s answer to Foursquare, which was eventually superseded by general location tagging similar to that of Google+ or Twitter).

From The Boys, by Katherine Losse, pg 146:

My career upgrade from dungeon department to quasi- technical role meant, along with a better salary and more respect from the technical echelon of the company, that I was now on engineering time. This meant that while I could come to work later, as late as lunchtime, I was expected to stay up until all hours answering emails and devoting myself even more monastically to our new enterprise. However, even as the respect and pay were higher, which was a huge relief, genuflecting to external application developers, even if I didn’t agree with what they were doing, felt a lot like the eternal reverence we nontechnical employees were all expected to exhibit for Mark and the engineering department.

From page 152:

Becoming a fully fledged member of the engineering team that winter felt, as I long dreamed of doing, like going from being slave to being conqueror. Suddenly, I could arrive at work on my own time, as long as I was working late into the night, because it was assumed that I, like all the engineers, was upholding and advancing a whole new world, even if sometimes we were just sitting around in the office eating snacks and playing games. In engineering, getting to work late was cool, even necessary. It meant, in the ideology of the lone and maverick hacker, that you weren’t beholden to authority, and that you might have been up late coding something brilliant and life- changing and disruptive (even if you were just trolling Facebook or watching porn). Being in engineering wasn’t an escape from the game so much as the ultimate playground.

From page 155 to 156:

I spent days with the professional translators while they read through pages of translations and made corrections as needed. They were working by the hour, clocking out at six o’clock, and thought it strange that I seemed perennially online the entire week, answering chats, reading Facebook, talking with them, answering questions, and responding to emails at all hours. When they left the office at the end of the day, they were done until the next morning. That, in turn, seemed strange to me. I couldn’t remember when the last time was that I wasn’t within spitting distance of my computer and smart phone. As much as I had once made fun of the Facebook boys for staring at their phones more often than they looked up, I had become one of them.

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: http://ctur-time-use-in-britain.eventbrite.co.uk

I went to see an excellent exhibition about children’s television yesterday afternoon, intended to explore “how the magical programmes of our childhood have created memories and nostalgia in adults and children alike”. The possibility of such explanation presupposes some degree of collectivity. The exhibition was ambiguous at points but there was a clear undercurrent of ‘our memories’ informing the curation, something which was particularly pronounced for me given I was seeing it with a Polish friend for whom many of these were not her memories. It would be possible to interpret such shared cultural reference points as collective memories or collective horizons, albeit ones delineable by age cohort, but it occurred to me that we could more usefully read this in terms of temporality and routine. This snippet stood out to me yesterday and I’ve been thinking about it since:

CKRs8bPXAAAR9UN

This degree of synchronisation, perhaps itself dependent upon a long discarded Reithian vision, seems jarringly anachronistic in retrospect. But it’s also much easier to recognise it empirically than is the case for contemporary routines of cultural consumption and the aggregate patterns they produce in wider social life. I’m not just talking about ‘our’ having watched the same television at the same time, but rather that ‘same time’ as being embedded in a broader cluster of routines which constitute the texture of everyday life.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that the existence of the “toddler’s truce” necessarily brought about its supposed effect. Nor that cultural consumption, or its highly synchronised and normatively charged absence from 6pm to 7pm, necessarily anchored routines or was even a particularly significant component of them. But it’s left me thinking about how temporal structures can be used to understand cultural memory, as well as how these are both facilitated by but also work to encourage clusters of everyday routines which will, at least as a whole, contribute over time to the constitution of the people who are leading them.

I’m currently reading Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures by Mark Fisher. It’s an interesting book which explores a condition in which “life continues, but time has somehow stopped”. His claim is that this “stasis has been buried, interred behind a superficial frenzy of ‘newness’, of perpetual movement” and he explores it in terms of popular musical culture:

Nowhere is this clearer than in popular music culture. It was through the mutations of popular music that many of those of us who grew up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s learned to measure the passage of cultural time. But faced with 21st-century music, it is the very sense of future shock which has disappeared. This is quickly established by performing a simple thought experiment. Imagine any record released in the past couple of years being beamed back in time to, say, 1995 and played on the radio. It’s hard to think that it will produce any jolt in the listeners. On the contrary, what would be likely to shock our 1995 audience would be the very recognisability of the sounds: would music really have changed so little in the next 17 years? Contrast this with the rapid turnover of styles between the 1960s and the 90s: play a jungle record from 1993 to someone in 1989 and it would have sounded like something so new that it would have challenged them to rethink what music was, or could be. While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion. It doesn’t feel like the future. (loc 183)

Can we see a similar process in higher education? The way Fisher describe the hyperactively inert quality of contemporary music immediately resonated with me: “the rates of innovation in both these areas had enormously slackened”. This is precisely the terminology Filip Vostal and I have been using to discuss the acceleration of higher education: we’re interested in how the rate of innovation relates to the rate of publication. Our hunch is that the former declines as the latter increases. We’d like to substantiate this. But perhaps more importantly, we’d like to explain it.

What would this hyperactive inertia look like in higher education? We’d see the same underlying ideas being expressed in news ways. We’d see the same underlying debates – conflicts between ideas – being pursued in new forms with no reference to previous skirmishes which largely or entirely addressed the same issue. We’d see reiteration that understood itself as novelty – making no reference to what has come before because the temporal horizons are sufficiently circumscribed that this novelty appears to unfold within a perpetual present. We’d see a perpetual forgetting coupled with perpetual innovation: nothing moves forward because the foundations upon which innovation might be built would be constantly discarded.

I’d argue we can see this. It’s a process that seems pretty obvious to anyone who’s kept up with academic literature over a sufficient number of decades (or maybe it’s just the people in this category whom I happen to talk to a lot). Part of the project we’re planning would intend to actually map this empirically. But the indicators are pretty clear: conceptual commonalities between referentially disconnected literatures, shrinking time horizons of citations, constant invocation of ‘turns’ in the name of innovation. Constant movement without anything ever progressing.

What makes this odd is how unnecessary it is. Since I started working at the Sociological Review, I’ve been slightly obsessed by the fact that the archive extends to 1908 and is fully digitised. It’s as easy to access a paper from 1915 as it is to access a paper from 2015. I’ve gone around telling anyone who might care about this in a way that extends far beyond any remit arising from the fact I’m employed by the journal. This fetishisation of the past is exactly what I take Mark Fisher to be concerned with – I’ve been hugely enthusiastic about these archives without ever seriously engaging with them. Crudely: I think it’s really cool that they are accessible but I’m not really sure why I think this. As Fisher observes, “it seemed that practically everything was available for re-watching. In conditions of digital recall, loss is itself lost” (loc 105). There’s no technical reason for this loss of the sociological past but this seems to make little practical different, suggesting that the reasons for this loss have very little to do with technological capacity. This recent post by Graham Scambler identified one of the core reasons for this forgetting:

There is now a premium on roller-coaster productivity pertinent to crass metrics like the REF. To (appear to) stand still is to attract opprobrium, too often from line-managers as crass(ly ambitious) as the metrics they bend the knee to. We are fast accelerating away from the concept of education as intrinsically worthwhile. Education in its entirely needs defending against the bureaucratic instrumentalism characteristic of this vicious neo-liberal interlude.

http://www.grahamscambler.com/meta-reflection-in-sociology/

The broader perspective of social acceleration helps situation this institutionally specific trend in terms of broader macro-social processes. But it’s important not to lose sight of the institutional specificity of higher education. I like how Graham describes the dilemma for scholarship posed by what I’m suggesting is the acceleration of higher education:

we already possess a considerable and under-utilized body of work, both theoretical and empirical (and yes, empiricist too). While the need for innovative theorizing and for up-to-date or novel data and analyses remains, there are published warehouses of the stuff that we neglect. It would pay us to tap and reflect on these. It really is okay to relearn lessons from dead social theorists, sociologists and researchers!

Much of my own recent output – mainly publications, but a few blogs too – comes within the orbit of meta-reflection. This is especially true of my work on health inequalities, but it applies also to my discourses on stigma. I have attempted to draw on and occasionally to develop extant theory as well as quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods investigations to explore optimal ways of determining the extent and nature of, and ultimately explanations for, enduring health inequalities and stigmatization. I have staked claims for theory that is in my view consonant with available evidence bases. I am of course deeply indebted to innumerable predecessors and contemporaries!

http://www.grahamscambler.com/meta-reflection-in-sociology/

It’s for this reason that I think questions of scholarly communication are integral to the future of the social sciences. But my reasons for believing this to the case are somewhat idiosyncratic. This is another theme which we’re hoping to explore in our project (and at the conference we’re organising in Prague in December). There’s a big picture here that is getting lost because of the very academic specialisation it has some important consequences for.

I got briefly obsessed last year by the observation that at a rate of one book a week between the ages of 5 and 80, it will only be possible to read 3,900 books in a lifetime. This is a little over one tenth of one percent of all the books currently in print – obviously an overall figure that continues to grow at an astonishing rate. Around the same time, I came across this odd little insight into the understanding AC Grayling has of the finitude of his own life:

As a shake-up, the philosopher AC Grayling is fond of reminding people that the average span of human life is less than 1,000 months. “If a third of them you are asleep and a third you’re in Tesco’s,” he says, “the other third, about 25 years, is left to you to live well.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/9035892/A-C-Grayling-the-master-of-positive-thinking.html

Much as I despise the man, it’s an orientation towards life which resonates with me. The reason that quantifying the number of books it will likely be possible to read in a lifetime struck such a chord with me (apart from the fact that I don’t naturally tend to think quantitatively and it just hadn’t occurred to me to place a number on it) was because I’d long noticed that my ‘to read’ list was becoming ever more problematic. At first it was a list. Then it was a stack. Now it’s a heap. This is a photo I took around last Christmas:

heap

Six months on and the heap is twice the size. Or perhaps it’s two heaps – I’m foregoing the impulse to make a geeky philosophers joke about the sorites paradox… my point is that it keeps growing and that this invites explanation. It may just be that I have a ‘book problem’. In some ways I clearly do, both in terms of my continuing to acquire them at a rate faster than I can read them and the problem of determining the ‘right’ thing to be reading when there’s so much from which to choose e.g. I recently found myself obsessively reading a 600 page biography unrelated to any research work at a point where I was in the final stages of writing a paper and should have been focusing my reading upon that task. Prioritisation is hard and so too is committing to reading a particular book when there’s always a further pile waiting for me that I’ve already selected  from a much broader pool of cultural variety.

However I think this example from my own life reflects a broader process. As soon as I try and write about my ‘book problem’ seriously I inevitably start using words like ‘prioritisation’, ‘commitment’, ‘selection’ and ‘variety’ – invoking social theoretical concepts that have been integral to my PhD research. Part of the problem is that my capacity to identify potential reading material and my inclination to select it both tend to increase with my reading and associated practices. I become more attuned to following references. As I read more, I read more literary publications (like the LRB and the culture bit of the New Statesman which I tended to skip in my early 20s) and identify more books to read, in turn inclining me to attend further to these sources of information about new books to read. The frame of reference I bring to books expands and so too does the range of what I extract from the books I read, broadening the range of things I might read in future and what I might take from them.

This is all taking place against the background of a necessarily finite lifespan. Time is literally running out. However our awareness of this finitude is always conceptually and culturally mediated. This might be a statement of the obvious but I think it’s very interesting to consider the implications of this for the variable ways in which we understand that finitude at different points in our life. One interesting way of looking at this is to consider ways in which it can be represented. This illustration from Wait But Why represents this in a way I find very powerful:

Weeks (1)

 

My point is that there is an existential challenge objectively encountered in the finitude of the human lifespan but that philosophical approaches to understanding this can often be insufficiently sensitive to the social and cultural factors shaping the ways in which people within a given social setting actually attempt to elude or build upon these inherent constraints. I think the mundane challenges of ‘time running out’ offer a very interesting way in which we can connect the everyday dimension to temporal finitude to the biographical dimension inherent in the limitation of the lifespan. I’ve talked about my ‘books problem’ simply because it’s familiar to me rather than it necessarily being a particularly typical or interesting example of what I’m suggesting is a broader trend.

However the lifespan itself is not fixed. Beyond the social and cultural factors shaping how it is understood, we have the similarly social and cultural factors shaping its temporal extension. Social institutions, relations, practices and ideas all contribute to conditioning the extent of the lifespan in complex and interconnected ways. So too does technology, though I’d suggest never in a way that can be abstracted from the relational framework within which technological interventions are enacted (the closest I can think of in relation to this is a nuclear destruction launched by one person accidentally pressing a button).

The social theorist Harmut Rosa distinguishes between the time structures of everyday lifelife time and that of the epoch in which they life. He argues that all persons continually struggle towards a degree of synchrony between these three dimensions to temporal experience. I think this is a really helpful perspective through which to address these issues. It’s from this perspective that I find the analysis of things like my ‘book problem’ so interesting – in identifying the mechanisms which lead to the intensification of the problem rather than its abatement, we get a fine-grained perspective on the temporal dynamics of the broader social system.

It also helps us understand what goes on in people’s lives when the struggle for synchrony backfires. A sudden awareness of mortality at the biographical level inculcates hedonism (live faster, live more) that proves destabilising at the level of everyday life. Or a concern to do work that matters leads to a day-to-day routines deprived of pleasures and so proves unsustainable. The strategies people adopt in the face of this central question (“my life is short, how do I make the most of it?”) necessarily play out in the three dimensions that Rosa delineates even if the person themselves does not recognise them. In fact many of the interesting unintended consequences emerge from the frequent disjuncture between the objectivity of these temporal dimensions and their subjective (mis)recognition. Things like productivity culture and self-help books can also be analysed in relation to a struggle for synchrony, as can their many failings. So too can religious practices which regiment time and social institutions which provide temporal structures that negate the existential pangs provoked by the absence of synchrony. Our attempts to get out of the mess of life are more temporally complex than we tend to realise.