WisCon: Geekiness and ‘Productivity’

Squeevolution!In May, I again got to go to WisCon, one of my favorite cons. The con was overall great: thought-provoking, energizing, validating, and just generally fun. Plus, I got to see a bunch of people I otherwise don’t get to see.

I got to be on a bunch of different panels. Most were also pretty great. One of my favorites, and apparently also the most popular one, almost requires a write-up.

Geekiness And ‘Productivity’

Capitalism tells us that we are only worthwhile when we produce or when we consume. As a result, many of us end up justifying everything we do, whether for work or pleasure, in terms of “productivity”: “I’m useful to society because I make widgets.” “My crafting/stargazing/gaming/reading/writing make me work better and consume more.” “That person is a better geek than me because they spend more money on their hobbies.” These kinds of framing buy into and reinforce capitalism. Are there ways of framing geeky pursuits that don’t buy into a capitalist framework? Are there ways of justifying our geeky pursuits that don’t commodify them? Are there ways to avoid needing to justify our geeky sides at all?

It turned out to be by turns thought-provoking, entertaining, and helpful.

An audience member did a really nice panel write-up over on Dreamwidth. Go check it out — they documented it quite thoroughly. There was also some good discussion and note-taking over in the Twitter-verse.

One major insight the panel brought me was how often work done by women gets considered insubstantial, and therefore not worth money, and therefore worthless. This includes things like emotional labor, and editing, and the creation of art that is ‘only’ emotive, and much more. So not only is measuring our worth in terms of ‘productivity’ implicitly buying into the capitalist machine, it’s also inherently sexist.

We also tried to give some practical advice. One of my fellow panelists discussed setting work limits for oneself. Not minimums, but maximums. A good idea, I think, for a whole bunch of reasons. I suggested, as I am wont to, that we practice compersion for other people’s interests, rather than feeling like our geekiness is somehow threatened by someone else enjoying the same thing; that we not feel guilty for ‘only’ reading RPGs; that, for those of us who are gamers, we commit to games that take exactly as much time as they should; and that we all demand our geeky fun, of and for itself, without having to justify it in terms of how ‘productive’ it makes us, among other things.

Perhaps the biggest insight for me was something one of my fellow panelists said: that we should practice viewing our hobbies, not in terms of ‘productivity’ (or alpha-geekiness, or wealth-generating possibilities, etc.), but in terms of fulfillment. Do your geeky interests give you a sense of fulfillment? Not “Do they generate income”, “Do they produce sufficient widgets for society”, or “Do you perform a geeky function no one else could possibly do”, but “Do they help you feel fulfilled?” It was a very good angle on the question that I hadn’t thought of in quite that way before.

All in all, a great panel to have been at, and to have been on.

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