In mid-November, 2013 I wrote a ‘how to’ article on Wikihow called ‘How To Waste Time Productively’; a few weeks later, they deleted it. The text is still in my drafts though, so here it is, unchanged and with the same pics.
Every morning as I drink my coffee, I envisage a wonderfully productive day stretching ahead of me. I will get those invoices done, and those lingering emails, and all the new ones that come in, while cracking out an original piece of writing for my long-neglected blog; hell, I might even get round to calling the tax office about that overseas payment which I so desperately need but somehow can’t quite muster the energy to battle through HMRC call centres to get to. Oh and maybe even do some actual WORK.
But every evening, my to-do list sits there practically untouched with only ‘Skype with mum’ and ‘put the washing out’ crossed off. Seriously, where does the time go? As that’s far too big a question to consider here, I thought it might be helpful instead to reframe wasted time as productive time, so that you can stop beating yourself up about being lazy, inefficient or addicted to Facebook.
Put your lack of productivity into perspective. Nobody else is getting anything done either, which explains the thriving market in time-management apps; it’s like when you go into a club with a bit of paper stuck in the loos saying ‘ANYONE CAUGHT DOING/ DEALING DRUGS WILL ASKED TO LEAVE’, you know for a fact the place is crawling with dealers/ wasted punters and you’re going to have a great night.
Time-wasting requires breathing, which is itself a type of work, as Marcel Duchamp (godfather/ grandfather of conceptual art) said: “I like living, breathing better than working…my art is that of living. Each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual nor cerebral, it’s a sort of constant euphoria.” Since it’s not inscribed anywhere it takes up no storage space, which is a bonus, and also it’s stealth art-making, since people think you’re ‘just’ breathing, when you know you’re actually you’re making art.
Eventually you could just sit on your arse all day and call it ‘work’ (see Marina Abramovic, except that’s wasn’t very stealth cos it was at Moma so everyone knew it was art, and JayZ had something to do with it, which meant that even non-art types heard about it, i.e. not very undercover)
Or, you could just do nothing and call THAT art, like ‘enigmatic’ artist Lee Lozano, whose General Strike Piece (1969) involved dropping out of the art world and never going to any parties again (I like this detail cos it proves she was actually ‘someone’ and obvs this piece wouldn’t work if you were a nobody, cos no one would care if you jumped off a cliff let alone stopped making art). So, she stopped making work, except that was the work, so she had the last laugh as we’re still talking about it 30 years later.
Seriously, you might as well do nothing but just exist, ‘cos according to Boris Groys, God doesn’t care about the extra stuff you put in either way: “what is the difference between the saint and ordinary people? The saints only live; they only exist; that is what god reacts to; that is why they are saints”. Oh and don’t bother finishing anything either; he advises that today’s artist need never make a masterpiece or indeed any ‘complete’ piece of work, and in fact ‘that is why he is admired’.
And luckily, in the new regime of attention scarcity you don’t actually need SKILLZ, you just need to master visibility retention, as exemplified by the reality TV star, who, as Brad Troemel points out, is “famous not because of her professional craft but rather due to an ability to remain visible, maximizing attention through the often banal and repetitive performances of herself.” In other words, she too ‘purely exists’ without really doing anything, but in a way that will probably lead to rehab and or financial/ emotional bankruptcy, which is why we watch it, and why she makes money (see also ‘bad girls’, certain variants of Overshare, trollgaze)
In a sense, the saints, and reality stars- and us too, now that we are all kind of reality stars in the ongoing drama of our socially mediated lives- are channeling a bit of Nietzche’s fridge-magnet-worthy aphorism: “Live your life as a work of art”. God is watching, even if no one else is. Except God is dead. Well, your friends are watching.
[Digression: note he didn’t say GOOD work of art; it’s like on the rare occasions I meet non-artists and tell them what I do for a living (hahahaha) and they half-squint at me, I feel I should add, ‘but I never said a GOOD or SUCCESSFUL artist’, cos I know that’s what they’re thinking; unlike most jobs, claiming that you are an artist seems to imply a positive self-value judgment. But he also didn’t say BAD work of art, failure is so 2012.]
‘Wasting time’ on liking, sharing, commenting and stalking people on Facebook or reblogging/ faving stuff on Twitter and Tumblr is, as doomy film theorist Steven Shaviro points out, in fact very productive: “Aesthetic sensations and feelings are no longer disinterested, because they have been recast as markers of personal identity: revealed preferences, brands, lifestyle markers, objects of adoration by fans….it is only insofar as they are known and objectively described, or transformed into data, that they can be exploited as forms of labor”.
In other words, telling the world what you’re into is actually a form of labour that is productive, albeit not for you, but hey, what comes around goes around, right?
If you’re an artist or other professional self-exploiter (permanently-employed world take note: in the not-too-distant future EVERYONE will be freelance and hence endless, shameless self-promotional social media whoring will be the norm) after all, as Foucualt says, the individual is compelled to be “an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself … being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings.” Well-dressed kunst-maven Isabelle Graw similarly warns that ‘subjectivity is the product’- and you better know how to sell it.
Anyway, it’s not just freelancers who’ve been sucked into the social media value extraction machine, as Ian Bogost (a game designer AND philosopher, howz dat for multi-tasking) points out: ‘today, everyone’s a hustler…we’re not even just hustling for ourselves or our bosses, but for so many other, unseen bosses’. Instead of technology letting us chill the fuck out once in a while, we’re ‘hyperemployed’, as ‘we do tiny bits of work for Google, for Tumblr, for Twitter, all day and every day’ and guess what, you’re not getting paid for it.
But if you’re smart enough, all of this hustling CAN actually be productive to you, since as Brad Troemel (him again!) says “we live in a time when young artists look at each other’s Facebook pages more than each other’s art” and “be it ‘politicized’, ‘sexy’, ‘ironic’, or anything else, the artist’s online brand tends to function as a kind of live-action role playing artist statement” (digression: your life is essentially a video game, but there’s no escape, and no end; but, just like the cottage industry of gaming ‘gold-farmers’ labouring in sweaty PC rooms to get coins to sell to losers obsessed with World of Warcraft, it’s already possible to cheat by buying up ‘likes’ in bulk, except the former requires actual, RSI-inducing WERK, not just a bit of software- in the future, there could be righteous vigilante squads hunting down the immoral, artificially augmented like-buyers, for cheating at the game on online popularity, just as gaming squads pick on the Chinese workers for selling coins that would otherwise take months to collect).
Basically, if you accrue enough cultural capital through your Facebook presence, in a few years time you can cash it in for some actual capital in the form of paid writing/ speaking engagements, an exhibition, a book deal, a column in the Guardian etc etc.
So, as Sam Riviere argues in a post on internet poets, you could reframe your ‘extra-textual work’ as a form of brand consolidation since “the extra-literary text … functions as advertisement for the poems, which function as advertisements for the author-brand: both are secondary content for a final product that is endlessly deferred, and that need never materialise.” Put another way, the extra-literary text IS the text, IS the work, and since that means its your life, you don’t have to finish it, or alternatively it means you will be working until you die. Or beyond even; Groys also that saints were essentially bloggers, whose blog was read by God, and whose death posed no obstacle to its being read. Poets- especially ‘internet poets’- are a special case though, cos unlike artists, NONE OF THEM ever make any money. Maybe that’s why poetry blogs are so good- the commenters are free to debate, safe in the knowledge that they don’t need to keep the OP onside in case she suddenly inherits a gallery/ starts editing Frieze. Or maybe, unlike most artists, they can actually write, and they’re just showing off.
Another way to stop worrying about actually MAKING anything could be by embracing what David Joselit calls buzz, which as he explains, has now replaced aura: “contra Benjamin … it is saturation through mass circulation- the status of being everywhere at once rather than belonging to a single place–that now produces value for and through images”. As the joint authors of Club Kids of Facebook point out, why bother toiling over a canvas (i.e. an auratic object) that probably no one will see when you could post a hilarious pic of a chicken on Facebook that could accumulate affective buzz and network dispersal through likes/ shares? For this to happen you do, however, need to have built up your online audience in the first place, otherwise no one will care about your YOLO pics, paintings or anything else for that matter.
A related strategy of accumulating attentive capital without doing anything is Geert Lovink’s natural language hack, where you get Google to work FOR you, by spreading your meme/ word/ image: “once your image/word meme reaches critical viral mass, you won’t be able to stop people from dispersing and modulating your images”. For this to work it needs to be a really catchy image; in my (female) experience this means one that at least sounds vaguely pervy, since to date my most ‘successful’ video, in eyeball terms at least, features me taking a shower [free tip: tags like hot, wet and pearls are good cos they could be innocent and therefore dodge the x-rated filters, though obvs not when used together]. Men can do it too though, and not just by posting pics of their girlfs; artist Oliver Laric told of his clip-art video being picked up by some vapid TV presenter, after which it got a zillion hits. End result, he got famous.
Be warned, though: trying to accumulate buzz can lead to constantly monitoring your ‘data self’ to get a few hits on the crack pipe of affective affirmation, which can as Rob Horning points out ‘yield paranoia and a constant feeling of self-promoting phoniness as checking one’s reblogs, likes, messages, and comments becomes compulsive’. In that case, go get SELF CONTROL software, it’s free and everything, though it’s a bit like admitting you can’t take the heat (and obvs, it’s still on your phone).
More to the point, what exactly is it you think you’re going to DO once the to-do list is crossed off: start living? Michael Sacasas aka The Frailest Thing, talking about the ‘Programmable World of Google Being’ asks a similar question, pondering what exactly we think we’re going to DO once technology has taken care of all the shit we need to get done: “the idea seems to be that when we are freed from these mundane and tedious activities, we will be free to finally tap the real potential of our humanity. It’s as if there were some abstract plane of human existence that no one had yet achieved because we were fettered by our need to be directly engaged with the material world. I suppose that makes this a kind of gnostic fantasy. When we no longer have to tend to the world, we can focus on … what exactly?”
What indeed? Sorry to say, but dealing with people on the phone, emailing them, cleaning the kitchen, paying bills, booking coach tickets, writing invoices, occasionally doing work you actually enjoy- that IS life so why make it into a list to be crossed off as quickly and efficiently as possible? Everything you cross off, you’re just one step closer to death. So…take your time!