Author Archives: Erin Glass

transient as the news

I typically come to journal articles through JSTOR or emailed PDFs, the consequence being that I have not (yet?) developed a sense of familiarity nor a particular relationship with any single academic journal.  In some ways this resembles the way Napster changed the experience of listening to music in my late days of high school.  No longer were songs associated as parts of an album or handcrafted mixtape, but presented singularly, with their historical or cultural context somehow more effaced.  When such a significant amount of music became instantaneously available, the experience of consuming recorded music lost its time-specificity, or that indescribable memory sense (nostalgia?) that develops when one listens to particular music at particular moments of time. It flattened. Maybe it was more an effect of age rather than technological change, but it’s around that time that music started feeling like one more thing to keep up with rather than an engagement that could be moving.  Exhausting rather than replenishing.

In the same way, I consume articles without much more than a general sense of how the article stands in relation to the rest of the issue’s content nor why it appeared at that moment in that journal.   The relationship that I might have had with a journal, I have with JSTOR.   The role of content-selection typically played by editors of a certain journal is now replaced by the suggestions of peers, course assignments and my own abilities to imagine and sort out what might of interest to me in the infinite-seeming sea of articles.  It’s impersonal, disorienting and sublime and on bad days, makes intellectual consumption feel as transient as the news . For better or worse, it exaggerates my interdisciplinary tendencies and makes it almost impossible to create a coherent sense of what exactly it is that I’m studying and how exactly I’d like to add to that tradition in some sort of consistent, focused way.

But another consequence of my relationship with JSTOR as a graduate student with access to much of its content, is that my appreciation for open access journals at this moment is mostly theoretical rather than practical.  As a student, I have still not yet experienced any significant limitations to access, and so, practical experience has not driven me to seek out open access journals or keep tabs on what traditional journals are considering.

And so, receiving a hint from Ashley Dawson’s article, I checked out the Open Humanities Press (a collective of 14 open access journals with a sort of critical theory bent).   Their listed goals are:

  • Advocate Open Access in the Humanities
  • Foster Community
  • Promote Intellectual Diversity
  • Improve the Experience of Academic Publishing
  • Explore New Forms of Scholarly Collaboration

All great goals! I even clicked around and found some articles I’d actually like to read (who wouldn’t want to take a look at “Nihilism, Nature, and the Collapse of the Cosmos”?).   But inherent in any sort of excitement about the potential of new-ish media ventures is the sense of despair at yet more content to somehow filter. I think this problem relates to their second goal of “fostering community,” for it’s community, that can, in many ways filter the endless possibility of content into a meaningful, focused and engaged conversation.  As much as the capabilities of the web create potential for new forms of community, its frictionless and infinite (-seeming) space also makes it hard for enough people to engage long enough in one place for a community to actually form.  The question, then, to me, about how to make the open access journal more than just more Internet noise is the question of how to build community around such publications.  The answer, I think, lies as much offline as on.

project management, aka, your hand is not your day planner

Day planner of 17th- century scholar Placcius.

“Day planner” of 17th- century scholar Placcius.

ah, what to say about project management and grant writing?  that they are necessary evils?  sorting through the links and info pages in this week’s reading had that same queasy, fluorescent light feel of trying to survive eight hours of screen staring during the data entry desk job. if only money appeared out of nowhere and projects unfurled by the magical force of their sheer worth.

my relationship to that which we are referring to as project management is one of reluctant hope.  people, it seems, forever and ever, have been looking for ways to best organize their time, thoughts, activities, resources, collaborations, etc.  the 18th century puritanical preacher jonathan edwards used to pin his notes to clothes so as not to forget.  emerson kept an intricate and extensive journal system that allowed him to cross reference one book to another.  the 17th-century scholar Vincent Placcius turned his notebook into a hulking piece of furniture (see above).  and who can forget memento, whose protagonist inundates himself with tattoos, stickies, & polaroids to combat an amnesia that seems, metaphorically, to parallel the inevitable forgetfulness of the information-overloaded subject of today’s world.

sure some of this may sound more like notetaking rather than official project management, but who’s to say where one ends and another begins. despite my attempts to enforce a logic on my many different types of lists of thinking and doing, my projects/tasks/notes-to-self currently exist in so many different forms that i begin to wonder if i would not do better with none of them at all.  i know i’m not alone.  after the research management workshop last week, students asked whether there might be workshops on just calendars and organization.  i can’t imagine a less sexy topic.  yet it seems, if we could just sort out these two little things, the world would be ours! and so, i can see why an entire institute (PMI) has arisen over this otherwise banal topic even if i’d almost rather read ten pages of source code.

there is of course project management of one’s life and all its many cubbies, and group project management. they are not so wildly different. one of the problems is not so much writing tasks down or keeping up with tasks that are laid out before one — the problem is keeping up with all the different places one orchestrates their project management.  personally, i have a paper day planner, a phone calendar with alerts, a list making app and a note taking app on my phone, multiple groups on the cuny academic commons, stickies on my desktop, evernote to-do-lists, a membership with the project management tool asana for my fellowship duties, a membership with the digital tool trello as of five minutes ago for experimental purposes, and of course, for those few not-to-be-forgottens-!, the back of my hand which currently reads “blog post.” (the latter is reserved for only the most pressing (read late) as it is a practice i detest!) it seems it would take me an entire day just to go through all these different places and so i don’t and the result is that on top of all this technology, at the end of the day, the main task master is exactly what i’ve been trying to supplement — my memory.    though the idea of one universal “project manager” is wildly appealing (and one that many of the tools we’re looking at this week promise), it seems flat out impossible.  my day planner doesn’t come with alerts and can be misplaced, my phone calendar isn’t as accessible and flexible as my day planner, only the online platforms enable discussion functionality with collaborators through email, etc etc.  furthermore, i’ve become increasingly wary of trying new tools and systems for there is always the certain risk (or near promise) that despite the time one puts into the new tool, they will only further fracture and confuse one’s already too-complex ecosystem of project management methods.  and when one already has so much to do, who has time to adopt to a new system!

this is not to say that i think improvements are impossible, only that they will take a lot of research, time and experimentation to find out, and that one must make peace with the fact as soon as possible, that a) neither will the tools be the final solution nor b) will there ever be a utopian solution. while i think it’s great that terry smith’s fourth grade class had a positive experience with project management, i think that has more to do with terry smith than with the tools employed. i can easily see the same project-management inspired classroom becoming a total bureaucratic nightmare. for while writing about project management, and acknowledging its worth and necessity (in our social/economic context), i’m also wondering what this increasing cultural obsession with project management and its tools reflects. it parses individual and social activity into something that can always be boiled down into a mission statement, time frame and dollar sign. great for getting projects done, meeting deadlines, satisfying the bottom line, etc, but not so great, at least personally, for feeling enthused about a project. is this a sign of something else in decline? am i just being whiney? is there room to interrogate this a little?

i have little to say at the moment on grant writing.  the literature here will be much more compelling, i imagine, when using it to apply to the actual writing of a grant which it seems we will all have ample opportunity to consider as we formulate our itp projects.  for someone who finds the construction of even the most minute forms of professional correspondence to be a rather mind-paralyzing activity, these examples look particularly helpful in breaking down the immense task of grant writing into a sort of manageable paint-by-number activity.  at any rate, here are a few more questions:

what project management tools/systems do you use, whether for personal projects or group projects? 

has anyone had experience writing grants?  how do you approach it? are there ways to make the task less daunting, more personal? 

for the lulz

what’s the secret to establishing a sense of enthusiastic, self-propelling creative energy in a collaboration?  if it was mere intention, than all types of collaborative work (academic, corporate, artistic)  would be wildly endowed, for we’d all rather enjoy our work than work to enjoy it.  it is a sense progressive corporations may go to great lengths to stimulate or stage, knowing its effect on productivity.

but hopefully we’re all lucky enough to know that this type of collaboration occurs without intention, as if by sheer luck of right people, right time, right project.  this ideal form of collaboration resists methodology, especially if its goal is given from the top.  the elusiveness of this ideal form of collaboration is a great regret for both organizations and individuals, for it makes the quotidian collaboration seem lacking, burdensome, busyworkish, a waste of time.   the experience of an ideal collaboration is the subject of much nostalgia for it gives an energy impossible to find elsewhere, a sense of community, joy and innovation beyond the imagination.  collaborative members find themselves doing and thinking what they could not previously.

while reading collaborative futures i am struck that this so-called ideal form of collaboration i’m musing about (a term to be picked apart later of course) always involves at least a small peppering of middle fingers.  notice the joyful use of “bullshit” in the collaborative futures book when critiquing the rhetoric of “web 2.0”.  the critique of capitalism, the liberal subject and traditional modes of organizing creative output are not incidental content of this book’s collaborative energy, but precisely what produces this energy.  looking back on my own semi-idyllic past collaborations i would say that they are always energized to the extent that they rebel against another way of thinking or doing.  a collaboration’s vitality, so to speak, is based on the extent that it organizes against another dominant system of organization.  that is precisely the thrill that motivates.

but motivates what? for awhile now i have been thinking about collaboration in terms of what it produces: science! technology! conversation! art! etc!  when trying to figure out if one might paradoxically plan for this unplannable ideal form of collaboration, i thought one must first decide what one is trying to produce by such collaboration.  it occurs to me now, however, that the products of such collaborations are really byproducts of the true fruit of collaboration which is the personal and earnest engagement with others, an intimate meeting of minds.  wild things happen when a group of individuals are suddenly organized by their personal relations with each other rather than the way society/university/workplace has mandated.  these inexpressibly rich, bottom up, organic connections are most powerful in the way they re-imagine the social organization of the world rather than the commodities or art forms they produce.

so, is there any worth in thinking about collaboration in terms of its social activity rather than what it produces?  and if such “rebellious” energy is a necessary ingredient for the ideal form of collaboration, how do we utilize it within the academy which demands professionalism and formality?