Over the past few weeks, the Vitalities Lab has gone digital. Working from home due to the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve slid (not without friction) into new workweek routines — progressing existing research projects, commencing new data collection, and collaborating in our analysis and writing.
Like many are doing with family, friends, and colleagues, we video-call twice per week to update each other on our projects, brainstorm new developments and problem solve hurdles. We’re primarily engaged in research across topics of people’s understandings of personal data and technology use, health information sharing on viral digital platforms like TikTok, and current barriers and facilitators of physical activity and movement. To keep existing projects running and kick our new ones off, we’ve shifted our data collection online, for instance conducting ethnographic interviews via ‘digital home tours’ and doing ‘lively’ observation of fast-moving digital platforms.
Our Faculty is using Microsoft Teams, to keep people up to date with quickly-changing information and service accessibility. As a Lab, we’re also using Slack, to keep in touch more regularly and informally — sharing articles, tweets, memes and videos that capture our attention throughout the day; checking in with each other and how we’re ‘really’ coping; and, perhaps most fruitfully, working together via simultaneous writing sessions.
We three postdocs (Ash, Clare and Marianne) do a number of pomodoros throughout the week, typically when we’re writing: we chat about what we’re working on and what we’re trying to achieve; we start the timer together and work on our separate tasks until the timer beeps; and we check in again afterwards, sharing in our progress and — more importantly — our roadblocks and dead-ends. Rinse and repeat.
With another colleague from the IT University of Copenhagen, Katrine Meldgaard Kjær — who recently visited the Vitalities Lab in Sydney, but had to return home early due to the pandemic — we have also been collaborating on some writing in a shared Google Doc. Together we’re free-writing through our current experiences, feelings, challenges and wants as COVID-19 unfolds — anything that strikes us, and feels good to write down. Our writing blurs together in this document. We don’t label our entries or have a set plan for when and what to write. It’s morphing into a collective/collaborative/cathartic/creative piece that documents our changing experiences of this time.
Between the twinned discourses of productivity and pushback dominating academic Twitter at this time, it’s obvious how such panopticonic technology disciplines us to continue to produce despite the circumstances. Aware of this, we are trying to make use of these technologies in ways that resist the ‘and punish’ part of this Foucauldian setup.
Even though we’re usually focused on separate tasks, these have relatively quickly helped us (re)establish the sense of being part of a team that we’re used to, working in a shared office space or just being on campus around other people. And this feels especially valuable as ECRs, as we’re translating the skills of being a student or junior staffer in a cohort to learning on the job greater independence as researchers, and the value of work community.
We really want to stress that, for us, the value of these things is much more than how they facilitate ~productivity~ (the keyword of choice for many of these digital workplace tools). What they help us cultivate is co-presence: in Clare’s choice words, sometimes it’s accountability but sometimes it’s just not being someone working alone on their couch in their pjs. These are small things that, on reflection, would have made a lot of difference to the isolating and adrift stretches of being a PhD student and early ECR — they’re certainly helping us through now.