“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.”
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.