On the twitters today I saw this from @TomLevenson
Thoughtful piece by photographer Thom Hogan on viewfinder hours. Applies neatly to writing, most other creative work: http://t.co/1Y5niQW8DL
— Thomas Levenson (@TomLevenson) March 28, 2014
The link is to a post called Viewfinder Hours by Thom Hogan that suggests authenticity of voice can be gauged by the "Bag Night" metric.
Back in my days running Backpacker magazine, we had an “authenticity” metric that we developed and practiced. I think it’s time for that here in the photography arena, as well. The Backpacker metric was “bag nights.” You got a bag night if you spent your sleeping hours in a sleeping bag in the wild (not your backyard ;~)...Authenticity is important. It means that your opinions are based upon real use and not casual contact with something. The Internet is filled with non-authentic opinions. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of authentic ones, only that it’s often difficult to discern which is which.
Hogan suggests an analogous metric of "viewfinder hours" for those who use and write about cameras. Those with more viewfinder hours would have more cred, wouldn't they? You'd take their opinion under more serious consideration. @TomLevenson says we could apply a similar metric to writing or any other creative work.
My first reaction was wow, that's a great idea. And keeping track of your [insert creative endeavor] hours would be a kind of incentive to make time for your creative labor, and to do actually do it, shitty first drafts and all. And then...then I had second thoughts. Which I promptly put aside for several hours while I tended to a headache.
So, the second thoughts:
The metric BlaBla Hours as a badge of authenticity doesn't sit well with me for a number of reasons. Practice makes perfect, we say, and to some extent the time logged at any activity is going to yield improvement. But there is also the law of diminishing returns.
I once spent a month in the lab of a top researcher that my PI's lab cooperated with. She tended to attract almost all female students, postdocs, and even lab techs. Her lab was very productive and highly regarded. Several of her postdocs/grad students had children while working with her. She told me what advice she gave them about mixing family and work (I'm paraphrasing): when you're at the lab, leave family behind and do your work 100%. When you leave, leave the lab behind and be with your family 100%. And, she said to me with emphasis, no one can say that [her postdocs/grad students] have been any less productive or have done work of any less quality than any other groups we competed/compared with. This was true. She ran her lab in total anti-K3rn style, and she was a great success.
BlaBla Hours is a metric that, without context, tends to reward those with the fewest constraints on their lives - people without responsibility for children or elders or a chronically ill spouse; people without chronic illness or disability that impairs accumulation of BlaBla Hours; people with sufficient resources to afford the time and equipment necessary to accumulate BlaBla Hours; people whose BlaBla Hours will be recognized and acknowledged as such by the Powers That Be. (Bag nights in the wild only - what do you mean, urban science? A smart camera phone? You need the V3XLR-22bi Pro! Writing for women's magazines? That's not real writing!)
It is possible to speak with authenticity, to add real value to the conversation, even if you can't rack up the most BlaBla Hours ever. BlaBla Hours is a metric that can tell you something, but not everything. Without context and without other information, it turns into just another version of Face Time At Work. BlaBla Hours is a metric that's probably most useful for you to evaluate your progress to a goal, rather than for others to evaluate you.
It all reminds me of when science bloggers tried to authenticate science blogging by putting a little stamp on blogs that authentically blogged about authentic science. It was a lovely idea, except it didn't include any way to authentically authenticate authentic blogging about authentic issues of gender/race/sexuality/ageism/class in science. Of course that's not actually science blogging so it wasn't really a huge problem for the authenticators. If BlaBla Hours is just a metric for people who can really spend the time really doing real BlaBla, then none of that other stuff I talked about matters either.