I’m currently taking the Radical Imperfection in Time Tracking class with School of Machines. For a week I had tried exclusively tracking my structured or ‘productive’ labour in an attempt to excavate data on the liminal/unstructured/inbetween time during my days that is often much harder to capture. But in regards to time-tracking, I have been consistently drawn towards mechanisms of tracking rather the data itself or data visualisation, which would explain my disenchantment while using something like toggle. This experiment left me wanting to explore more tactile or hands on methods of time tracking.
I was inspired by the Forest app; a virtual forest where each tree represents a different project, growing a little every time the user logs their time spent doing that particular task, motivating users to return by activating feelings of accountability towards the virtual forest. Something like a Tamagotchi that you feed with productivity. And while this felt like a simulation of something more needy, that required more care than toggle, it was still hard to feel any sense of responsibility towards a forest made of pixels. (app idea: instead of a virtual forest, it’s a real forest. People can help maintain forests, put out forest fires, plant seeds, water gardens with their time tracking labour. The paradox lying in that it’s maybe the same hard work or relentless production that is simultaneously destroying it. The user creates the very problem they are tasked with fixing.)
This time tracker works by slowly dripping water into the pot correlating to the task being performed. Each drip is activated when water is poured into the funnel, releasing approc 1.5 tsp of water/hour. It works on the same principle as the Forest app, inciting a sense of responsibility for the seeds who’s vitality i am responsible for with the time I spend writing my blog, learning german and developing my collaborative practise. And as I write this now, my attention flits between the screen and the droplets falling the background reminding me of my intention for this period of time and of the resources they crave. Metrics of minutes and hours are converted into droplets and it is with water we measure the passing of time.
The seeds activates longer term thinking in relation to goal setting because the gratification of seeing how much I have worked on a project is cast weeks into the future. Working parallel to the temporality of the sprouting seeds, I feel as though I am nurturing something with every word I write. This form of data collection resists exact quantification since I will never know for definite how long I spent on it unless I decided to count each droplet. This ephemeral data, materialised as water, is never captured but only experienced. It is a time-tracker that is quite literally alive and to engage with it thus feels reciprocal some how. I care for it and it turn cares for me, even if only because it’s survival depends on my choices. Towards these seeds hosted by strange apparatus lodged into the architecture of my workspace, I feel maternally accountable to them.
I like that the rate of the water droplets is constantly changing. Time here is not standardised but instead varies over the period of being ‘on’. Sometimes I look over and the beads drop_____drop______drop______drop only to return a couple dozen drops later later to see them drop__________drop_____________drop_____________drop. I feel somewhat released from the anxiety of time passing because I am reminded that time is textured with qualitative properties. That 10 minutes now are not the same length as 10 minutes in an hour. I am reminded that time is relative and contextual, and much as we might try, no standardised system can capture our experiences of time. And so I am lulled into a gentle flow with the unpredictable rhythms of falling droplets in the background.
And as I reflect on it I can’t help but find it a slightly extreme intervention and somehow very telling of our times that I should be trying to activate deep and intense feelings of motherly nurturing in order drive me further towards work. It feels almost like I’m exploiting myself by trying to artificially activate and then harness a very animalistic and instinctive drive I have to protect or care for another being in order to try to satisfy my neoliberal desires to distinguish myself through production. Although on the flipside I wonder if this could too be seen as somehow a feminist act, a kind of DIY biohack whereby I am able to conjure the latent power of my body to nurture (although this is also presuming that every person with a uterus also carries an innate drive to care, which is a very sweeping assumption) and reappropriate it to function and for once favour my female body under a capitalist system. I am confronted at once with how gendered this mechanism is.
5 Days Later
One day I suddenly realised the seeds had sprouted. Ironically, it must have happened over the course of a wildly unproductive friday, where I was lounging off a hangover and had only momentarily visited my desk. When I return to get back to business the following morning, all three pots have suddenly erupted into life. I can’t help but attempt to pluck meaning from this coincidence.
But it also revealed a fundamental flaw in my experiment; i hadn’t considered lighting. The far left pot had far greater light exposure than the far right pot, so even though M+S Project was the only pot I hadn’t watered once during the 5 days, it was the one that had grown the most. I am hurtled back to GCSE biology where we were drilled to keep all the variables, other than the one you are measuring, consistent. Or maybe it was a question of overwatering; the pot that I had watered the most had grown the least and the vice versa. It seemed that there is such thing as spending too much time!
Again, I can’t help but feel like the seeds are trying to teach me a lesson.