Backlog: ‘an accumulation of something, especially uncompleted work or matters that need to be dealt with’. The dictionary reveals disappointingly little about this ugly word. For example, it does not mention the anguish which even a presumption of backlog can generate in people these days.
The word itself seems to have a chilling-power; over me, anyway. In particular at ends and beginnings of academic years I have to force myself to reflect and sort out this recurrent anguish – and decide which parts of it are fake. Since I tend to get most of my work done; year after year I conclude that most of these gnawing feelings are plain stupid.
In case you wonder: no, I am not a Protestant, nor was I raised under some (other) horrific work-ethic. I don’t think there is much wrong with me, in that area at least. However, I do seem to have trouble adapting to these ‘times they are a-changin’. For when viewed sociologically, professionals in higher applied education seem to feel pressures today of not just one-, but at least two different kinds of potential backlog: backlogs of work-not-done and backlogs of lacking reports on work-done. The two kinds even interact in dangerous ways: the more different work you take on and manage to get done, the higher your risk of backlog in reports emerging. And report to the world we all must…. or at least as publicly as possible. Why? From a socio-philosophical perspective I can think of at least four reasons for this rising urge of publicity in the last decade or so:
1. Philosophers of technology have argued for some time that new media exert a strong ‘technological push’ to consumers generally: ‘Blog we can hence blog we must’. Also, this push comes with peculiar time-twists: it accellerates our experience of time (see Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration, 2013). The appearance seems to have taken root that ‘old’ media report yesterday’s news, while new media are about ‘events’ with a built-in element of excitement: Happening Now! (Slavoj Zizek, Event, 2015).
2. In my daily role of lecturer delivering higher education, I work together with more colleagues than ever before, even though our contacts become shorter and our disciplinary backgrounds diverge. It follows that we have professional interests as educators that others learn about the changes introduced, the changes that worked or worked not, and so on. ‘Oh, I really should let them know about this…’
3. In my particular role as part time-reseacher and member of a plural group of researchers I desire to share my work, or at least show that it is ‘knowledgeable’ for my ‘kenniskring’. Note however that with this role comes yet a third kind of potential backlog: a failure to respond to others’ reports of work-done. I have read numerous blogs on this site which gave me great new ideas, and/or recollections of relevant literature to consult, and so on…yet we seldomly produce such responses to each others’ blogs (for an explanation, go back to reason 1 above).
4. Yes, management might be a reason too, or rather a poor management-culture: we work in this ‘culture of accountability’ now (the term -I think- was invented by British philosopher and MEP Onora O’Neill) where goals unreported are considered by definition unrealizeable and where succesfully realized but unreported actions are considered by definition as undesirable.
There is much that can be said for and against each of these reasons. And there may be other such reasons which keep the anguish alive. My bottomline for today is that it is always possible to resist some of these points some of the time. Put differently: It is inevitable that we seek and find a more sustainable balance of doing and reporting. Personally, I have not found such a balance yet. But I do decide today to fight my start-of-year-anguish about backlogs by writing backBlogs. No reports on the NOW and WOW events but reflections on actions or utterances past, completed yet improveable. More to come!