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January 10, 2007

[iDC] The Ethics of Leisure


Judith Rodenbeck

I'm interested in juxtaposing this deceptively simple remark on participation by Jean Burgess:

"And, as others have suggested, probably one of the most pressing issues is the tension between the idea of participation as agency or enfranchisement, and participation as a form of free labour that is required before we even appear to _exist_. An opposition that is probably too stark in the face of real experience, but some of the debates around this stuff at least tend to assume it exists."

with the recent discussion of continuous partial attention. In particular I've been troubled by one aspect of the discussion on this list, which seemed to be a growing valorization of continuous partial attention (as some kind of new paradigm, as productive hyper-channeling, or whatever). The refreshing honesty of those posters, pressed for time, who admitted that they (as I do) skim and toss longer posts--or "filter" in Trebor's anodyne usage--made me think about various other "filters."

I don't necessarily want to return to the gender discussion of several months ago. But anyone who has ever been around children, and especially anyone who has ever been responsible for them, will understand "continuous partial attention" as a description of that situation. Continuous partial attention is THE condition of active parenthood. And for better or worse this--to borrow from Jean, a "form of free labour that is required before we even appear to _exist_"--is still a predominantly female situation. There is no doubt in my mind that sexism has retrenched itself in the developed world in the last two decades--vide, e.g., the new "family friendly" health minister in Germany, French crowing about having Europe's highest birthrate, England's positive fetishism of motherhood, and of course the "family values" of the US, all of which come (pace excellent government-sponsored childcare in France) fully packaged with the encouragement to women to "be all you can be" and stay at home (or worse, in a kind of social psychosis evident in the US media in Martha-Stewart housekeeping mania or Dr.-Laura fulminations against "bad wives").

It troubles me, then, that one discursive "filter" in this small, virtual arena seems to have to do with real conditions in meat-space--and in the case of "continuous partial attention," with a highly gendered experience of the world. Who writes? Who lurks? Who produces those lengthy posts that others have no time to read? What gets valorized and on what terms? What situations get elided or filtered?

My sabbatical is being eaten up servicing other people's writing. When it's over I will be servicing other people's children. "Leisure time" means finding something to eat or spending time with my partner and...her children. Vacations involve research. "We want shit jobs for peanuts" indeed! How about you?


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Posted by jo at January 10, 2007 08:20 PM