Wednesday, February 15, 2012

One Week, One Tool

"A digital humanities barnraising."

It is striking how the project is presented. This much labor, measured out in terms of this much time, produces this product. The meting out of time for product, the neat measuredness of each, is here pointed up as the essence of the project. It almost doesn't matter what the tool is. The workshop wasn't designed to solve any particular problem. It was set up to construct one unit of "product" in one unit of time.

This is by and large the opposite of digital humanities labor, which is interstitial, ongoing, and in significant part custodial (to take my own example: time spent blocking spammers at Arcade). This is of course why the language of "one week, one tool" is appealing.

One week, one book. One week, one conference. Are we feeling productive yet?


Brian said...

I think, rather, that the appeal is the opportunity to learn something in an allotted space of time. In this case, it isn't the tool that matters. Rather, it's the experience of building and shipping a product and seeing something through its life cycle in a way that many of the participants aren't able to do at their home institutions.

Mark Sample said...

You're right that "it almost doesn't matter what the tool is," but I'd disagree that One Week, One Tool "workshop wasn't designed to solve any particular problem." It was. The workshop was designed to solve--or at least explore possible solutions to--the primary hurdle individuals face when getting digital projects off the ground. And that is the problem of inertia. Institutional inertia, collaborative inertia, and just plain old daily living. Launching a similar project the usual way can take months, even years. And it often happens in an indifferent if not openly hostile environment, with little support. "One Week, One Tool" sought to prove there are other ways to go about collaborative ventures in the humanities.

That said, it's important to note that the taglines "One Week, One Book" and "One Week, One Tool" are both profoundly misleading. Hacking the Academy was "crowd-sourced" in a week, but it took over a year for the edited volume to come out. Likewise, at the end of "One Week, One Tool," the product---Anthologize---was hardly a full-fledged tool. The developers have continued working on it, slowly, in the 18 months since. Yet neither project would have happened at all without the initial compressed activity, which generated enough momentum to push through the inertia of not doing these things.

So despite the taglines, I'd say the emphasis wasn't productivity. Instead it was the process of getting started.

Natalia said...

I'm interested in the way the project is represented and received. Of course Hacking the Academy took more than a week to edit; Anthologize wasn't released immediately either. Yet the projects are framed in terms of time-for-product. Of course all kinds of hidden labor goes in, unseen, uncounted, and not part of the "week." The labor in any research project is diffuse and continuous. But the projects are nonetheless discussed in terms of discrete units of time; the discrete units of time are their defining feature. I am suggesting that this is not arbitrary, but rather has to do with how we wish we could still think about labor. More specifically, it has to do with the hope that DH will let us make that return to an industrial time-for-widget model.

Mark is right that One Week, One Tool was designed to solve a labor problem, the problem of "plain old daily living." This is, however, also the problem of postindustrialism, since plain old daily living is newly monetizable. (But not by us.)