Reflections on Reading

I want to start with the Past and Present reading on Time. The theme that seems to be running through this class most often is that of relativity. In this article, Thompson is arguing many things, one of which is that even time is relative. He uses the example of a group of people who do not have any notion of the word time, and simply go about their day without it. Thompson also proves that with the development of industrialization, time began to equal money, which lead to the importance of time.

I thought this article was fascinating because in my previous semester spent in England, the biggest difference I noted in cultures was the relationship to time. In England, the streets were crowded with business people all hours of the day, every day of the week. My friends and I joked that no one seemed to work in England. American’s always need to have three things to do, they cannot simply sit and enjoy: this would be considered wasting valuable time. Thompson addresses this by noting how American’s perfected working with time long ago with Henry Ford. Why is it that the English seem so ambivalent to the passing of time (they can sit in a crowded park for hours just sitting or talking), while American’s still rigorously believe that time is money?

While I could not relate to the second article as much as to the first, I did still find it interesting. Holquist makes a point to differentiate between policing and surveillance, two words that I previously assumed meant the same thing. I think the stigma in the United States and Europe is that surveillance, especially by the government, is a horrible thing. In this article, however, Holquist argues that in Soviet and pre-Soviet Russia, the point of surveillance was not to monitor, but rather to figure out the moods of their citizens, as well as to help shape their citizens into better people. Holquist also argues that information moved in two separate ways in Russia. He says not only did information move from the people to the government, but also the other way around. I think this is an interesting opinion and one that we do not get usually in America.

Holquist’s final point that he makes in this article is that the use of mass surveillance really blossomed in the Second World War for many reasons. Holquist says one of the main reasons was because governments (not just Russia’s) wanted to see how their soldiers on the front lines were feeling about the war and in general. This mass surveillance shifted after the war, however, and moved from not just soldiers but to every citizen in the country as far as Russia is concerned. This second article left me with many questions, but they are all due in part to my lack of knowledge in Russian history. I was impressed with both author’s obvious enthusiasm for their topics, and found new, interesting topics discussed in both.

Surveillance in Russia

Holquist takes his argument and focuses on USSR and their plans to monitor the mood in Russia. His organization was very solid, keeping the flow and had breaks in the different thoughts, but how he views his sources presents a little concern for me. I personally did not notice any vetting of the sources because in Mother Russia (like anywhere else), there is a tendency to either emphasis or ignore particular aspects of what was going on. For example, there are issues of validity in countries such as Russia where there is censorship and even self-censorship on the management (and surveillance) levels.

Holquist continues on to revisit that idea of Imperial Russia compared to the other powers during World War I. In my World War I class with Professor Sweeney, we discussed ideas such as these, especially regarding communication home. For example, the troops would often be issued form letters to send home just to let their parents know they were alive, which they would sign and send; which in turn, alleviated some of the burden on the censors. The French, on the other side, used imported laborers to help keep their factories in production. These laborers would send letters home describing their working conditions in some of the most risky jobs and the chance that the stories of people being sent to the front (for one reason or another). It wasn’t until they tried to draft 25,000 Algerians to work in France that they realized the letters being sent home by the workers needed censored or they would never find enough workers in the colonies volunteering to come work in France. As a whole, the idea of censorship seems to be both beneficial (for the controlling state) but at the same time, a waste of resources and manpower because it is obvious when citizens become unhappy with the state, just like they did with the Revolution of 1905 and again in the Russian Revolution.

Evolution of the concepts of time and surveillance

In Information Is the Alpha and Omega of Our Work, Peter Holquist details the evolution and purpose of the Soviet surveillance systems. Holquist argues the Soviet surveillance systems were not solely a Soviet phenomenon and were not restricted to the Bolshevik era of power. Instead Holquist claims the use of surveillance was a European concept and had existed prior to the Bolsheviks, with World War One as a catalyst. Surveillance differed from policing in that it’s goal was to mold, “society’s human material into a more emancipated, conscious, and superior individual”(Holquist, 417). Through surveillance the states could, “attempt to gather information on popular moods and the measures intended to transform them”(Holquist, 418). Holquist argues surveillance was directly related to the transition from an imperial state concerned more with ruling territory, to a governmental state which became more concerned with the overall mood and thoughts of the population it ruled over. This is not to say the governmental state cared about the feelings and problems of it’s people on human level, but as Holquist mentions the state was interested due to a desire to protect it’s own lifespan.

Holquist argues surveillance varied within Russia in different time periods and contrasts Imperial Russia in 1913 with Soviet Russia in 1920. Imperial Russia did have surveillance agencies, such as the “Black Offices”, but the state was at that time more concerned with potential revolutionaries at the time than the Russian population as a whole. Yet after the fall of the Tsar and rise of the Soviet regime, the focus of surveillance switched to include revolutionaries and the population as a whole. This was due to the increased focus on creating a “better, purer society”(Holquist, 417) as well as a desire to protect the regime. It was interesting to see throughout the article how Holquist describes the evolution of surveillance and the variance within time periods, countries, and the European continent as a whole.

In Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism Thompson analyzes the evolution of the concept of time in relation to industry, modernization, and societal values. Thompson argues one of the ways the importance of time was emphasized was through pre-existing Puritan values. These values had already stressed a strong work ethic and a importance placed on time in the context of religion and an approaching judgment day. Thompson argues the insistence imposed by religion on the working individual switched to an insistence based on making money and a sense of time in relation to hours in place of a natural cycle. Relating to the evolution of the modern concept of time in relation to society, Thompson mentioned clocks began appearing in public places during the 14th century but their upkeep and ringing was funded through the donations of local residents. The donations indicate that the modern concept and importance of time was not yet established in these communities and most were functioning with natural time. It was interesting that in the 18th century the possession of a device which could tell time, such as a pocketwatch or grandfather clock, indicated a higher social status or rising social status amongst the lower classes.

Alpha Omega Work Disciple

In Holquist’s article, he discusses the different needs and uses of surveillance during the Cold War and the entrance of World War 1. The uses of surveillance under the Imperial regime and the Soviet Regime was very different. It was noted that every month, officials would have to turn in reports that would show how the citizens were feeling in terms of thier moods. A statement was made “the crucial factor was not the ‘popularity’ of the system”…”These systems were concerned isntead with sculpting and “gardening” a better society while simultaneously molding societies human material into a more emancipated, conscious and superior individual– the “new man”” (Holquist. pg 417) This statement goes to show that throughout the wars, the use of surveillance was to change the people.

Thompson’s article about time and work-discipline is much different because it does not compare two different groups of people separated in time, but rather an abstract idea. He describes time as relative to the group of the people being discussed. An example is given “nature demands  that the grain be harvested before the thunderstorms set in…sheep must be attended at lambing time” (Thompson pg 60). This use of nature and farming vernacular is relative to the people it describes.  The development of the clock, from grandfather clocks to pocket watches are described as a slow process in which time, which was once different and relatvie to each group, to become one central time that everyone abides by, regardless of your occupation. As it stands today, clocks are linked to satellites so that everyone in your time zone has the same standard time. It seems that in order to study an abstract idea like time,  one must have an understanding of where the idea came from, how it was used many years ago, to understand its progression and its future. This article was very interesting to me because coming from a family of farmers, is it is very true that time is relavant to the group it describes.