Work, Identity and Time – a little conversation with the Little Book of Kabul

Dear Fra,

This morning, I set off to look through the participant database for JSFoo and figure out what were the job profiles of the attendees. I had to compress the work profiles into a graph, which is to go into the event report. I was building a classification of work when I came across titles such as:

  1. Framework Engineer,
  2. Requirements Analyst,
  3. Manager of Interactive Development,

among other profiles. 

For many days now, I have been mulling – and complaining and writing – about work. I have been trying to define my work in HasGeek in order to build an identity for myself – and I have been very unsuccessful at that.

This morning, as I was trying to build the classification, I once again thought of work, and how work has become such an essential aspect of our self-identity definitions. I remembered two things as I was thinking about work.

The first incident that came to my mind was this book called Ishmael which I had read soon after I dropped out of Clinical Psychology masters programme in 2001. In the book author Daniel Quinn narrated the story of a young man who was excellent at everything he did – carpentry, farming, writing, music, art, you name it – and yet, he could not make up his mind about what he wanted to do in life. Unable to find an answer to the question, he eventually walked into a river and died. Quinn’s conclusion from this story was that if the young man was part of a community where everyone does everything and one gets taken care of even if one is not “working”, then the young man may not have met the fate that did.

The second incident that I still vividly remember is the first morning in Srinagar, Kashmir, where I sat down in the parlour, sipping tea, and that activity went on for nearly an hour. Gowhar sensed the restlessness inside me and gave me an impish grin: “you are looking for work, huh? This is the valley. Time passes very slowly here. Take things as they come.” During the next few days in Srinagar, I grappled and struggled with many things – time, work and self-identity struggles being one part of them. Time passed real slowly. Work was among the least of the concerns that people had (and yet it was the foremost concern). There was little meaningful work to do at that time – you either became an engineer in the Public Works Department or you end up with a teaching job in Srinagar university, or you kept on studying till you found “work”. And yet, all of this work meant little to the people of my age back then – work could be as oppressive as everything else around – family, conflict, state, citizenship.

This morning, when I reflected back on the social networks, groups and the world that I am part of, I was forced to think about the relationship between work, time and self-identity. I am seemingly living in a seemingly fast-paced world of information technology developments where things change so rapidly. I have come from a world of studying land, economy, society, practice and relationships where change takes place very slowly, even when things appear fast-changing on the surface. In the midst of these changes and pace of time are changing definitions of what counts as “work”, as “meaningfulness”, as “productivity”, as “livelihood”. Whose craft/skill/contribution values more and therefore, what aspirations and strivings do people have when they seek work or build work for themselves or define what their work entails? How does the software architect place himself/herself in relationship with the “software engineer” and how does this relationship and definition impact the self-identities that each of these entities builds for himself/herself?

This morning, I thought back on the time you are spending in Kabul and the narratives you are building from what you observe and experience. I remembered the post you made about the visit to the art school. I remembered the brief discusion you had with me about tailors, buttons and clothes in Kabul. I thought back on these, and right then – this morning –  began to wonder how work, time and self-identity issues are playing out in Kabul. I’d like to know more.

Among the last few thoughts I had this morning, I looked back on my decision to live in this neighbourhood in D C Road that I do. It is a village that has now become the hub of movement for vehicles, people and goods because it connects with Electronics City. Yet, if you look at the buildings – that represent what architects, planners and urban studies theorists will call “sprawl” – they appear as if from a different time. There is a temple, among many other temples, in this neighbourhood. This temple is situated behind the Veera Bhadraswamy bus stop. It has a courtyard like space where old men, mostly speaking Tamil, congregate in the mornings. One of the men there presses clothes – from 6 AM to 10 AM. He, along with other men, talk to each other. Their talk is usually gossip, or so I fathom. I think about them, their lives and “work”. I think about the men and women who run provision stores in this neighbourhood and how it was to run provision stores back in 1970s and 1980s where these stores were primarily information networks.

There is so much to be thought about and written about work, time and self-identities of individuals and communities – a philosophical treatise, historical accounts, reflections on knowledge and political economy. This could be a project in itself. And then, it becomes work. What an irony!

About writerruns

I am lost in life. I now run to lose myself and to lose the handles I have been holding on to.
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3 Responses to Work, Identity and Time – a little conversation with the Little Book of Kabul

  1. Ashwan says:

    Slightly tangential, but I think you might like this book:

    I read it almost ten years ago and loved it. It was related to my work then of course. 😉

  2. there are people for whom there is no goal in life, but interests they pursue at a certain moment. After having pursued several you start to be able to connect them into an innovative view. I’m currently exploring on how the internet changes society. There is a very good doctorate by Nathalie Coleman- ‘coding Freedom ‘ out on Hacker culture. Maybe you should start to connect the pieces.

  3. ISOTC says:

    The story about the young man is scary. I was just mulling over what identity do I construct of myself as a researcher when I chanced upon this post. I am interested in so much and yet feel ill-equipped to self-identify as an expert in any one. I keep flitting from one topic to another. They are all loosely interrelated, but I don’t think I have it in me to keep at any one forever. So, what theory do I claim as my guiding heuristic? What elevator pitch do I have ready when asked about my research? Perhaps, it is a familiar malady that afflicts people in academics all too frequently? More often than not these days, I just end up feeling the same kind of hopelessness you have written about in your other posts.

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