first posted on Auto Italia’s blog as a postscript to On Coping: A Reading for Liverpool (The Royal Standard, Liverpool, summer 2015)
An experiment in efficiency and time-keeping: 2 hours to write up some ideas & quotes relating to the device-cleaning workshop run as part of On Coping. Screenshots I took while writing are presented along with screenshots people sent me during the workshop, responding to the words on their cleaning cloths and more generally to our discussion around maintenance (digital, sanity and otherwise), storage, over-load and other fatigues.
I’m sittin in bed I write this, on my phone. Somehow it felt like this immediacy would make me write more concisely. I need parameters- apparently the task stretches to fill the time, or time stretches to waste all day on a task that could’ve taken an hour. Very familiar.
I’m writing on Evernote, which, I discovered the other day while trying to delete old apps off a new phone, is classified as a Productivity app. Most things are- why use an app unless it saves you some time? When you’ve saved all seeking materials that last forever time then you can start living. I used to have a motto- an adaptation of youth is wasted on the young (is that it?)- that goes ‘Life is wasted on the living’.
Spending so much time managing life that there’s no time left to live it.
What’s any of this got to do with the phone and laptop cleaning workshop well- I just spent the morning doing a ‘brain dump’ which is another sort of efficiency/ prosciutto tool.
I meant productivity not prosciutto obvs.
So here are some notes.
Evernote has bizarrely added its own little post-it logo unless it wasn’t obvious what they were. This is definitely a sign that it’s a productivity app- post-its are a shorthand for brainstorming blue sky thinking/ out of the boxing/ dreaming up a new start up for (most likely) a new app
Okay. Going back. Here’s a quote:
“maintenance of digital infrastructures are forms of labour very rarely discussed”
“infrastructure is also the invisible and time-consuming labour that underpins our electronic world” Judy Wajcman, Keynote at Transmediale 2015
I’d been doing this phone cleaning project for a while already when I came across this quote/ sitting and cleaning other people’s phones and then keeping the dirty screen wipes.
Dirt as a kind of medium, an encrypted trace- it tells you ‘something happened here’ but it doesn’t say what. It preserves privacy. It’s also a very micro/ personal scale of materiality of technology- even what Ingrid Burrington refers to as these ‘black amulets’ collect and carry traces of their use, a literal embodiment of the time spent swiping tapping zooming scrolling. Truly intimate data. Wiping off someone else’s intimate data proved to be pretty awkward. A sense of anxiety thT somehow it gave me access to something hidden, something hidden behind the lock screen.
There’d been so much talk of how the internet isn’t immaterial-
“The Internet doesn’t exist, but its effects are real”
– how the greedy server farms guzzling energy linked our everyday devices to much wider geopolitical networks of value, profiteerring, war. And here’s me worrying about the commodification of human consciousness. But I do worry.
At the time I’d also been thinking of what sort of relationship artists have with their audiences, collaborators and friends and family and how these come into their work. I was thinking that I probably care too much about what they think- I have this fantasy that some artists really Don’t. Give. A. Fuck but they’re probably pricks so never mind- and that maybe I shouldn’t acknowledge this thru gestures of attention-giving
My new phone still has my old shortcuts on it (another effieicny tool!) so as I wrote the above, this appeared:
“Giving attention is giving love, is giving away something u haven’t got” (any time for)
I agree with that, mostly. I think it’s a fudged version of Lacan On Love. But love and care and attention are often forms of gendered labour that- like maintenance in general- is less ‘important’ than the grand gestures. The grand gesture of buying flowers so all your friends see, and say aww isn’t he great? but neglecting you in the day to day living of a relationship- not doing the dishes, or asking what’s wrong when you’re pulling that face. The grand gesture of launching an amazing new app/ start-up/ platform/ feature etc, whose functioning relies on successfully culling beheadings, porn and other NSFW content from its feed- millions of microtasks perforned daily and to no applause by mostly underpaid women from parts of the works like Bangladesh where We don’t have to worry about their deteriorating mental health.
Someone’s got to do it though/ and no, there’s no app for it, not yet. Hito Steyerl talks of the process of deciphering buttholes from bunches of pixels
‘What are the social and political algorithms that clear noise from information? The emphasis, again, is on politics, not algorithm.’
Just went for a loo break. The idea is I’m going to write for two hours. I’ve heard- and it seems true- that if you just focus on ONE TASK- you’re much more likely to finish it. And that by tricking yourself into writing (or doing anything else you have a love-hate relationship with) for a very short period of time, you might end up with a book. Multitasking as a curiosily ineffective way of saving time. From the Manifesto of Rivolta Feminile, a group of Italian feminists active in the 70s-
We detest the mechanisms of competitiveness and the blackmail exercised in the world by the hegemony of efficiency.
Attributing high value to “unproductive” moments is an extension of life proposed by woman.
Rivolta Femminile Manifesto (1970)
What is an unproductive moment? Sometimes we lie together and I try and feel ‘oh, THIS IS SKIN’ or as in the zen saying, ‘every moment is the best moment’.
Moments aren’t in competition with each other.
The other day he said I was competing with the duvet, coz I suggested he was hugging it, instead of me. Competing with an inanimate object, a new low!
But really. Things have so busy in the past six months (or is it a year?) I can’t even imagine. I’ve become my own worst nightmare- colour coded to-do lists, post its all over my wall, a million schemes. And a fear that I’ll never have time to do ANY of it, like a full blown fomo grass-is/greener syndrome, looking for value everywhere and being unable to find any, anywhere. I will look back at this and say ‘that was burnout’- as if it only happens once.
Burnout, treading water. Cleaning and re cleaning- the work is never done. However clean it is, soon it will be mucky, soon the storage will be filled up and I’ll be deleting photos and videos quickly to try and take another. Even the photos are in competition with other, even tho there is endless space for our ‘moments’ now, as endless as the energy used to prop up the cloud(s) is endless.
Mierle Ladermen Ukeles- Maintenance Art
So in this workshop. We sat in a circle, on the floor. A kind of group therapy situation (I assume- I’ve never been to one) with optional, though entourages sharing. Embroidered screening cloths were passed around, which were used to clean dirty devices with, in between digital cleaning: deleting, moving, sitting, unfollowing, logging off. Like an AA meeting, an opportunity to confess and rectify some digital sins, mute some people, ask why you can’t delete those photos of your daughter even tho they’re backed up in 5 places. A dream of disconnection, which only has value in relation to the norm of connection and mostly seems to be undertaken with a book deal or article in mind.
It’s been an hour now. I’m feeling very tired. Maybe I won’t do the whole hour after all. I’m still on Airplane mode, still on Self Control. My addictions always get he better of me, I can’t help it, I’m a Greed personality which means I always want MORE even if it’s of a Bad Thing. Like scrolling Facebook with insomnia or lingering over other people’s Moments.
Recently I’ve been thinking about hiding. And secrecy.
Hiding from what?
From admitting I’ve been miserable, or from the fact I might just be lost. Of course like cleaning and maintaining, staying On The Path (whichever one it is) is a daily task, a constant challenge. Sometimes I look in awe at friends who seem so…buoyant and wonder how they manage without hours of meditation/ medication/ therapy etc etc. but then I’m sure that exactly how I come across: buoyant and together.
I’m going off topic now, really tired. Everytine I do. Body scan I relate thee is a layer of concrete solid exhaustion.
‘Exhaustion as a status symbol’‘ says vulnerability guru Brene Brown.
hashtag Smugbrag– for the artist who has t all and wants to make sure everyone knows about it, but also knows it gives of the wrong yuppie/ Protestant work ethic odours if shouted too loudly. One eye on the clock, or around the room for other, more unity people. Signifiers of slumming it gloss over a hard business nose. I do it too. Pragmatism- artist got to eat, artist got to produce/ project social capital, those two things don’t always sit together. Sweet compromise! The real skill lies in projecting or generating enough social capital that those compromises, that pragmatism, gets overlooked.
Outsiders become insiders but can claim the privilege of both if they cultivate and maintain their outsiderness. But it’s a tricky balancing act. Now I’m wondering why he out Jenny From the Block on my playlist (I have theory- his playlists are evidence of love, each one carefully considers so that I read meanings into them, deciphering How He Sees Me from the choice of title- for sown reason the document with the quotes won’t load but I was thinking of Apophenia- the tendency to see patterns j chaos, human faces in clouds, winning streaks at the casino, undying love in a string of text messages, paranormal activity in random unrelated phenomena. Things make sense coz we need them to/ We don’t see things as they are but as we are, said Anais Nin.
I’m almost at an hour Nd half. My mind is wilting. I had wanted to say something about hiding, occlusion and making visible. I got so annoyed of this rhetoric of illumination- the idea that we can stand outside things, shining lights into dark corners and as if by magic, MAKE VISIBLE. it’s a thing in what could be called Infrastructural Critique- a logic of showing how the Internet or technology or sue elephants or whatever works, that suggests a critical distance, a standing beyond the issues and processes being made visible.
That implies a gif eye view, an untainted separation of viewer and viewed. BUT Everything gets dirty in the end. And every act of making visible is also a making of new knowledge- it’s not that there is an objective reality just waiting, wanting to be uncovered. Meaning, like reality, is performative- and contingent. Two people couldn’t, wouldn’t make the same thing visible in the same way. Subjectivity creeps in, but is often disavowed.
I’m running out of brain. This quote was very important to me- Wajcman, quoted at the start also points out how ‘Busyness is a cultural (not technological) construct’. Technology is social before its technical, to misquote deleuze.
“Chrononormativity is a mode of implantation, atechnique by which institutional forces come to seem like somatic facts. Schedules, calendars, time zones, and even wristwatches inculcate what the sociologist Evitar Zerubavel calls “hidden rhythms”, forms of temporal experience that seem natural to those whom they privilege. Manipulations of time convert historically specific regimes of asymmetrical power into seemingly ordinary tempos and routines, which in turn organize the value and meaning of time.
Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds
Near the end now, adding quotes in a panic coz I don’t want anything to be left out. Like this is my chance which is probably true- I won’t get any more time than this. Institutional forces- of being always on, always moving, available, flexible, come to seem like somatic facts. My lateral hip pain, an outward expression of the implanted belief that I must always be busy that there is- or should not be- no off button. My batts are running low and the threads between things running low. I think I know what I mean. High performance turns on itself so that darkness becomes a cover, a safety blanket. A knowledge in darkness, that’s where I’m going. I have run out now. The ‘brilliant darkness of the unknowable silence’. Or just to the shop, my turn to cook
By chance YouTube played me who moved my cheese and it said the most important thing is to LAUGH AT YIURSELF
so I’ll go do that now