Personal Branding, Libraries & Untime

wasting time

“Wasting time is about recharging your battery and de-cluttering,” he says. Taking time to be totally, gloriously, proudly unproductive will ultimately make you better at your job, says Guttridge. But it’s also fulfilling in and of itself.

-Olivia Goldhill, The Psychological importance of Wasting Time

In fairness, Oliva Goldhill points out that wasting time is good in and of itself. It just came packaged in my favorite neoliberal news site, Quartz, so it also seemed somewhat of a half, given the time=money equation that drives much of life and QZ in general. And there is much conversation about relaxing so that you can be more productive in the time that you do work. In the same article, the idea that Darwin only worked five hours a day is so out of historical context that it reads as an appeal to become Victorian, which is difficult at best. But it rang up against some things that also brought up a favorite idea, personal branding:

Immersion in social media requires immaterial labor that might thus forestall other forms of temporal consciousness – such as sitting with, contemplation, untimeliness.

But the neoliberal imperative that would push more and more scholars to brand themselves as efficiency machines, to borrow from Lauren Berlant, might prove to be a cruel optimism.

-Mimi Thi Ngyuen, Against Efficiency Machines


It was fun to see it double back on productivity and “efficiency machines.” The untimeliness already reads a bent of distaste, of judgment, slow time is already set up to be “untime” as if it were not a part of time at all, but something different altogether. Time not spent working is not part of recognized time. Personal branding exists in the “time” space, of speed and relevancy, of possibly being professorial in off time to legitimize oneself. It is fast fashion compared to the slow and tedious craft of scholarship, with countless hours, days and years going into the production of a single, great work. Extending the comparison got me to a thing I read a few years ago and hung onto:

Indeed, craft’s magical properties are wholeheartedly embraced by the luxury trades, which tend to be disguised by a glossy veil of promotion and distribution.

-Glenn Adamson, The Invention of Craft, pg. 103

Higher Education feels like the luxury trades, the ivy and stonework, and offices, the titles, the tenure process. The libraries. The humanities:

Humanists are often superb teachers capable of exerting deep, formative influence on their students as individual human beings. But our contemporary society (whether you call it “neoliberal” or just “privatized”) has developed powers to isolate the social force of the resulting subjectivity precisely in “private,” individual subjectivity subjected (as it might be said) to more powerful agents in unequal, one-way, and purely reactive relations.

-Alan Liu, Why I’m In It x2


One of the most prodigious wastes of time seems to be kept from its maximum effectiveness by the same forces that demand extra work and personal branding. Even for ingesting the luxury goods at their source, in the purest form, the goods are recieved and then isolated, prevented from having their flowers bloom in a field of uselessness in the time of untime. Forced into a world of personal brands, the same knowledge can circle back to become a brand in itself, the brand of the slow that is captured and marketed for itself. Maybe it isn’t all bad:


Dinner Lab is just one of many new brands forgoing the typical fight for users, focusing instead on providing a memorable experience for its dedicated fan base. These brands discovered that a unique experience is enough to drive users to share their positive experiences. And that’s where the marketing strategy ends.

“We’re hoping to create as big of a community as humanly possible, but you can never take away the human interaction,” Bordainick says. “There are little moments, like being at an event and watching members help our staff clean up. I believe that’s what technology was made for — not to replace human interaction.”

-Zoe Fox, This Year’s Hottest Brands Are Also the Most Secretive

It has been a while since I was a dinner party user, but dinner parties where guests clean up seems like such a strange way to create authenticity in the act of cleaning up the dishes alongside staff. Better that human interaction is not removed from dinner parties, but such branding essentially brands something that didn’t require much marketing in the first place. It creates a zone of exclusivity that takes the mundane and makes it less so that it can be turned into a business. That isn’t a dig at making a living, but it is a fun thing to consider. Look again at higher education, at the humanities and it sounds similar: the craft, the humanity, the thought and intention, all packaged and sold into a productive untime for consumption.

Do we as students take that and make it part of our personal brand? Does it extend into what we instagram and facebook? It probably gets cut up and compartmentalized back into those systems, making up more unpaid labor towards our brands. So it goes. Maybe it should be time for libraries to ban social media in their walls. Please don’t tag your location.




Quote That: The Google Effect


The “Google effect” describes the implications of a social and technological landscape where algorithms increasingly service access to collective knowledge, encapsulate our memories, and make decisions for us. We are now becoming ever more reliant upon the technologies’ powers of reasoning and less reliant upon our own. Hence, we quickly become less vigilant and increasingly passive in our judgment of the world around us.

-Ted Hunt, Googling Gives Us Answers, But Deprives Us of Intelligence

Loneliness, Worksheets, and Why I Prefer Lectures


There comes a time at a library desk when the librarian is alone. This was written at one of those times over spring break. I can see three people and we’re all alone together in our research worlds. Mine doubles back on itself: researching loneliness. My wife is at home and is also alone. Surrounded by voices of others filtered through the mediums of language, printed word, and the internet, I’ve spent the day musing over why it is I have a near-instant reaction against the delivery of information literacy through worksheets. They seem efficient and assess-able. They measure so perfectly each student’s understanding and progress and it is depressing and unfun. So obviously it is a problem with technology?

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

-George Monbiot, Neoliberalism is Creating Loneliness 

The technology of the worksheet is not so insidious, but if there ever was a mechanism for creating loneliness in a crowd, then dropping a sheet of paper with instructions in front of a student at a computer isolates them. They diligently get straight to work. I wonder if they know that people wrote the things they dig out of the library databases if they can hear voices in their heads and conjure up pictures of the authors, the way they do on the radio. Sometimes I make them stare at each other for a couple minutes to loosen them up and remind them of how what they read is written. It seems taken for granted that the reader has a relationship to the writer, however remote. The database has sacrificed our connections, as has the written word and all the rest. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the following assessment of a student’s life rings true:


“It’s still a scary place for a lot of students. Your first year coming here, you can feel really isolated,” said Kevin Settee, the student association’s president. “You’re in classrooms, then you have to go home and study, and you’ve got to do your research and write your papers, and usually a lot of that happens in isolation.… It can get lonely.”

-Teghan Baeaudette, Nearly 70% of University Students Battle Loneliness During School Year

If there is one place an instruction librarian could intervene, it would be in a one-shot. Which is why worksheets just don’t seem to make sense. But as someone who holds active learning and critical information literacy dear, what sense is a lecture? Thankfully, Miya Tokumitsu was able to bail me out in my feral search for a cogent answer:

The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

-Miya Tokumitsu, In Defense of the Lecture


Markus Spiske / Flickr

After reading that, I felt a little better. I’ve spent more time designing seminars on-the-fly. I spend more time arguing for the usefulness of all of the obscure and interlocking systems the library provides. The mechanics of these things are not the most complicated issue that today’s students face. They are mildly complex, and our partners and vendors have worked to make them more user-friendly. But the whys of them, the reasons for their seams, overlaps and splits are never explained, user manuals exist but they tend to be books on how to do research. So I’ll take that hour to two and make it the most awkward and useful that I can.


Silence, Cheating Death, and Other Problems in Research

Future Technology Display

We always mistake the library for the world. It frustrates us that they cannot find the thing they want to say, that nobody has asked and answered the question we want to ask, that our knowledge does not map 1:1 our experience. This desire has extended to reproduce life itself. Futurists like Martine Rothblatt are doing their best to make information map onto life to make it replace a life:

In Martine’s vision, at the end of Bina’s physical life, when her body gives out, there would still be a Bina — Bina48, a robot designed to interact with the world just like the original, right down to her sense of humor. –CBS News

This is a possibility that fits the definition of a life:

Information creates the potential for an immanent activation that activates the body’s coming to be this or that and its de-forming into a field of relation, an ecology of body-becoming. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.20

Propelled by the force of in-formation, life is the tendings and habits and attunments, the appetition, that activate the singularity of this or that unfolding process. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.21

To put it this way a life is not necessarily organic, and information presupposes the body. The idea that a life is just what is mentioned above is a fair one, albeit obscure, where we can talk about the life of a business and the life of a pebble but what is at stake is not just the transference of a life, but the transference of a consciousness, which is somewhat hard to prove. As the philosopher Riccardo Manzotti puts it:

Information could provide a sort of recipe to build, in the best scenario, a faithful replica of a past event, thing, or organism. DNA exploits the same principle. Even when there isn’t any variation–as is the case with clones–the new individuals are not the same as the past ones: they are new individuals that have many similarities with their original. –Riccardo Manzotti, Information Won’t Make Us Immortal

This is doubly so, as Bina48 will likely insist on being conscious and act that way. The ghost in that machine will likely find ways to express its Bina-ness, but it will never be Bina’s consciousness the way Bina’s was. This comes down to the entire problem of information: it only provides the force to activate the singularity of an unfolding process, but it is never enough to dictate an unfolding process itself. Even as we store it, at its core digital information will always be communicating, and most importantly, it will never be silent. For a host of other in-formations, Bina48’s silences will never be Bina’s once she’s gone. This is because information is always an expression, a force, never a lack. Digital information can always say yes or no at the bit level but it cannot say neither.


Writing, like all information, has the same problem. it cannot dictate the unfolding itself. Derrida points out in Writing and Difference that:

There is an essential lapse between significations which is npt the simple and positive fraudulence of a word, nor even the nocturnal memory of all language, to misconstrue that language is a rupture with totality itself. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p.71

Writing is isolated, and cannot express the meaning of silence. For the same reason, we cannot map a library to the world 1:1.