Productivity performance art

May 11, 2007

Is the difference between performer and audience simply a matter of gaze? Is it simply that the audience member must focus on a more distant object than the performer?

Consider the men and women that each of us likely encounter every day who spin digital yarn on the public stage – walking and sending text messages; dining with friends and checking e-mail. Their gazes, like those of actors, are directed at a closer field of action contained within a larger, framing space. If the tool of the audience member or, in the latter case, the random passer-by is the loupe, which flattens everything into details of a monolithic reality (an all-encompassing scene), the macro lens might be the most appropriate tool for the actor or the human engrossed in technology, who conceives of everything in a figure/ground dichotomy: there is existence out “there,” but the details are few, and the most important object is close and small.

Yet in the figure/ground organization of an image, the ground has to give context and meaning to the delicate, particular object which is in focus. Consider the stereotypical macro image of a flower; then, consider the difference between a background composed of more flowers or foliage and one of a raging fire. The ground gives meaning to the figure, but our interpretation of that ground is influenced by the details, the frailty of the figure.

So it is that the apparatus of technological productivity includes a never-ending semaphore: “I am being productive.” This, of course, requires its own allocation of time.

No where is this more apparent than the internet, where discrete web pages make up the otherwise fluid and immersive hypertext. And no single web page contributes more (or more popularly) to the putative productivity of the busy masses than Lifehacker. Full of hints for shaving seconds off of routine tasks, this website updates often enough to constitute a task in and of itself. Reading it becomes like a visit to the Container Store: a utopian vision of order, where the system itself is so conducive to accomplishment that it requires only your bare presence.

My idea is therefore this: to follow every single suggestion made by the website and document as my life turns into an unmanageable morass. (Please don’t interpret this as the inauguration of that project; others are encouraged to try it before I ever do.) I would be so occupied with developing new, more productive habits that I would be utterly immobilized. My computer would be so weighed down with productive software that it could hardly run (and I could scarcely navigate it). I would be in a state of such pure productivity that, bizarrely, I could get nothing done.

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