[drifting with precarias] notes from dec. 2 drift

The 3Cs drift with Maggie Schmitt started at 3:57 PM on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 2 in a crowded Carrboro coffeehouse, Open Eye. 3Cs commandeered an unused corner of the cafe for our homebase, and started with a discussion of what themes we wanted to explore in the drift. Themes proposed were:

  • How much do we work (as student/in other roles)?
  • How much is our time worth?
  • Soft exploitation and self-exploitation (what forms do they take in our daily lives)
  • Where does UNC happen on a Sunday?

It was a rainy day, and we spent some time trying to decide what methodology to use for the drift. Should we walk to campus and visit workspaces (likely to be empty, except for lab buildings)? Visit places around Carrboro? We started off with a group interview on the question: what do you do on a Sunday? (In these notes, Im going to include only responses, no names)

    Sunday activities:

  • working occasionally at UNC Planetarium (funded by Union Carbide); avoiding work/trying to work at home
  • at home; working on the couch at a friend’s house, working at Weaver Street or Open Eye (need other people around to concentrate)
  • working (always at home)
  • Sunday morning mass, brunch with friends sometimes, working at home, phone call to parents, dinner with friends (make a point of not going to campus)

Opting to stay at Open Eye and delve further into the topics of University work on a Sunday, we started a discussion about the nature of University work, workplaces, and the intersection of social space and labour space.

Open Eye has been described as Carrboro’s living room — a place people visit to meet friends and to relax and to do work, more often all three. On the day of the drift, we counted 75 people in the cafe, and 45 laptop computers. Only three people weren’t working (or, weren’t trying to look like they were working). Work permeating the social environment to such an extent is something we realized we’d often taken for granted, and the discussion which ensued focused on the relationship between work and social space.

Sebastian: “One of the cute/destructive things about this sociality is that whenever we see each other, we’re reminded of work we haven’t done. We [married couple with a young baby] used to come to Open Eye and bring work, and it’s interesting that there’s no barrier between work and café. You only have to be at the University for so many hours, but you’re expected to do hours of other work.”

Maggie: “Things are very different in Spain”

Maribel: “Agreed”

Maggie: “Right.. work doesn’t happen in cafes, it happens in the overcrowded libraries. The whole notion of a café for workers doesn’t exist. You go to a café to hang out/smoke/drink/play cards.”

Liz: “Still, there are some benefits to having this collective space – I remember one time all of the folks in one of my seminar classes happened to be here at the same time before a big due date for a paper, and we all collectively decided not to do the assignment”

Sebastian: “But you were all anthropologists; that’s important – only certain departments come here. Lab sciences have to be physically in the lab to work, and they’re there most of the weekends.”

Tim: “Yeah, so all of South Campus [the medical/sciences complex] is busy on the weekends, while North Campus is quiet.”

Maribel: “Maybe it’s a political/cultural thing?”

Maggie: “There’s also this added value of networking – you can’t read everything but you can know enough people who have. Does this space become important as a site for affirming casual relationships?”

Tim: “It’s not just University work though. Weaver Street Market [a co-op grocery with café, down the road] is sort of a creative class hub. You see architects meeting clients there, business meetings, job interviews.”

Maggie: “So does the quality of the work people do change at Weaver Street or Open Eye? Why go there instead of home or the office? What is that choice about?”

Maribel: “There’s also the issue of public space – we don’t have much of it.”

Maggie: “If this is our plaza, what does it mean that everyone is plugged-in and focused on their own work? Why come here?”

Liz: “One of my friends and I used to make plans to come here and work, and not talk to each other.”

Reno: “I kind of feel like this is the way life happens. You don’t go outside your bubble, you use a laptop as a shield to help protect your bubble. Or, maybe, the laptop creates a feeling of isolation and you come to a public space to help mitigate that?”

Craig: “One of the other cafes around here bans laptops at night. My old roommate used to be a programmer, he got really mad at that.”

Maggie: “What is the history of the café workplace? Coffee shops go back to the 1980s, right? Why cafes as workplaces?”

All (chorus): “Now we have laptops! Digital labour!”

Maribel: “What a strange object! The laptop is a digital workplace, a portable workplace, and yet we all associate good feelings with it.”

(Sebastian runs out to count laptops and engage in an informal survey of laptop work. Results, 45 laptops in the building; many of them in groups of people working together, each on their own laptops. We also discover biologists, environmental scientists, and medical students all working at Open Eye. End scene.)