Personal Branding, Libraries & Untime

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“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

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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:

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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.

 

 

 

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Quote That: The Google Effect

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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

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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:

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“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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Quote That: A Reason to be Wary

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Four errors concerning this molecular and and supple segmentarity are to be avoided. The first is axiological and consists in believing that a little suppleness is enough to make things “better.” But microfascisms are what make fascism so dangerous, and fine segmentations are as harmful as the most rigid of segments. -Deleuze & Guttari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi.

New Ethics of Writing Style

 

But the ability to convey tone and emotion through text, without resorting to illustration, is one of the key challenges of writing. It’s what makes someone a good writer rather than an effective artist or illustrator. And though emoticons may make it easier to convey different moods without much effort, they have limitations of their own. “You couldn’t communicate only with emoticons,” linguist John McWhorter wrote in an email. “You have to know what you’re talking about, what happened, when and so on. Emoticons don’t do that.”

Alice Robb, Are Emoji Taking the Emotion Out of Our Communication?

Alice Robb for the New Republic unleashed another “kids these days” piece of clickbait in the name of grammarians and assorted fuddie-duddies everywhere. It must be easy to pen essays decrying an entire generation for being unable to covey emotion without illustration while having your piece lovingly bookended by nice stock photos, with a generic font on well-designed web pages. Indeed, the tone of the piece is actually softened by its surroundings and comfortably corporate setting. Robb’s division between “text” and “image” belongs to a neverland where typography and design were never considered important.  Taken out of original context, McWhorter’s quote takes on new levels of no-duh-ness. People communicate with emoticons specifically because they are communicating with people who don’t need significant amounts of additional context. To say you couldn’t communicate with emoticons alone is so obvious as to be nonsense, and Robb failed to do her source any favors by shifting the quote to make such an obvious point against whippersnapper straw-people. But of course, a good grammarian will rely on the writing vs. talking defense: we normally don’t talk the way we write or vise-versa. But even then poor speaking skills and habits happen. Like emoticons, but still different, the use of vocal tics like “like” and “um” are primarily emotive, adding another layer of commentary and interpretation to otherwise dry text:

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We should admire, not belittle, kids who use it [like]. Far from being banished from polite or public dialogue, their discourse markers should mark our own—they should be imported as a sign of a meticulous grasp of the truth that there is no settled truth, that all narration is subjective, that every account must always be qualified.

Adam Gopnik, The Conscientiousness of Kidspeak

Gopnik maybe overstates his case, but his defense is worthwhile. We are, after all, talking about people who are still growing up, still learning. Perhaps once they’ve been through a college grinder and gotten a good n’ proper learnin’ then they too can wield weighty words and wordplay against each other in linguistic battles of the wits as Robb would so welcome. But their innate sensitivity might get lost. It is fine to promote the use of “proper” communicative skills that are designed to carry maximum symbolic frieght to the widest number of possible readers. That is the essence of “proper” grammar: to give agreed upon guidelines for broad communications. That is, of course, not all all what texting with emoticons or a face to face conversation is about. It is a wild misplacement of communicative rules as a form of social unease:

Labov’s experiment suggests that punctilious attention to “proper” usage may come from a place of insecurity. The extreme form of this is hypercorrection, in which “a real or imagined grammatical rule is applied in an inappropriate context, so that an attempt to be ‘correct’ leads to an incorrect result.”

Katy Waldman, Does This Make Me Sound Insecure?

Robb’s essay is a form of hypercorrection. Doubly, as it is posted on Mashable, the internet k-hole of silliness for digestible smartness. When you are stuck pretending that text and text alone rules like Britannia, it is easy to forget the small things that make interpersonal communication go, both visually and otherwise. I pose my last case: a girl who smiled in a selfie at Auschwitz. If there ever would be a story that raises the ire of the stiff-backed everywhere, it is this one. But again, what is missed is that the harshest critics took what was once a small, personal communication by a young woman as a media event, as something that should follow “the rules” of propriety and journalistic excellence. They noxiously misapplied rules that had no standing in order to pass judgement:

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By being completely ignorant of how some would interpret her vague digital communication (the only thing that’s obvious from her photo is that she’s happy and she’s at Auschwitz. The rest is not clear), she’s influenced a global conversation on the limits of self-involvement. Some have come to her defense, reminding us all that she’s just a kid with a dead dad who shared her love of history.

The only reason why Breanna is on the receiving end of so much hatred is because she had the audacity to smile at a concentration camp. I hate to break it to you all, but Breanna Mitchell smiling at Auschwitz is not the worst thing that ever happened at Auschwitz. I dare say that it’s not even in the top 5,000.

Dave Schilling, In Defense of Taking Selfies in Depressing Places

This is a call for a new ethics of grammar. For ignoring the rules when they don’t need to be applied. Otherwise, we will simply end up sounding like this:

It’s no surprise that millennials have embraced emoji and their pixelated cousins, emoticons. Ambiguous, superficial and cute, they’re perfectly suited to a generation that sends Hallmark e-cards ironically, circulates step-by-step guides to “being deep,” and dismisses “deep meaningful conversations” as “DMC’s.”

Alice Robb, Are Emoji Taking the Emotion Out of Our Communication?

Don’t worry, the kids are having contextually rich DMCs. It is our job as educators, as adults, and as people who honestly care to model good grammar when need be. More importantly, we also model ethical behavior that doesn’t overstep bounds, pass poor judgement, or cause undo harm.

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Quote That: On “God is Dead”

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You could no longer read as if your life depended on it. This is the other side of the now perennial cries of the decline of reading, of the humanities, of literary culture, of all that. What  psychoanalysts call the decline in symbolic efficiency is more about the decline of the repressive function that excommunicated those that read the wrong way. –McKenzie Wark, Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Communication