Follow-up Conversation with Ernst
What is the bag for?
In our earlier exchanges, we discussed the bag, but didn’t really get to the point of why Ernst needed a bag at all. So I put that and other questions to him. His answers are paraphrased.
Bag as shuttle, as tunnel to work
The bag makes it possible to work at home. And when there are deadlines, it is easier to meet them if work hours include some evening hours at home. Home is also more conducive to tasks that involve quiet reflection and writing, and it feels less appropriate to read for a longer period while at work. But since the books might be needed at work as reference they end up in the bag. In summary, for Ernst the concentration needed for some academic work is not easily achieved in a work environment.
So the bag has a function of carrying books and the laptop between home and work. Ernst doesn’t want to have to shut things up and put them away. That includes an antipathy to using an online collaborative file-server where that means having to re-download and re-upload files every time they are altered. By simply bringing his laptop along, he can work on documents without worrying about multiple document versions on different drives. The laptop and books therefore provide a kind of continuity (or seamlessness?) across reading, writing and thinking. Bringing his stuff home enables Ernst to maintain his environment, very much along the lines of the desktop metaphor of the computer.
And in between work and home?
I had been struck by the way the bag was not set up to be used ‘underway’ in Ernst’s daily routine, and asked about that possible use.
The bag is for work, answers Ernst. Perhaps, if he were travelling to a conference, there might be stuff for underway, like clothes and more music on his ipod.
And does the bag require work? Does its materiality matter?
No, it is a part of work, part of his intellectual environment, even, of his identity as a scholar. We talked about what would need to change in his work to make a different to the bag. This is hard to imagine. The job would have to be extremely different, and would have NOT to involve a computer.
Ernst also took up the comment I had posted, about the contents of his bag being hard and shiny. For Ernst these are not qualities that matter. I explained that my comment was an attempt at considering the materiality of things carried in scholars’ bags. Ernst insists that the material quality or affect of things does not matter as a criterion for deciding what is or is not in the bag. We talked some more about this, and Ernst noted that for him the one material quality that matters is the padded part of the bag itself, since it was a criterion used in its purchase. It is meant to house the laptop, but he now prefers instead to put the laptop in another part that is quicker to access. And finally there is also a connection between commuting mostly by car and the considerable weight of the things carried. While he commuted by bicycle – – before moving house — he carried his stuff in a large rainproof cycle-panier (a fancy black Ortlieb one that now lives somewhere in the attic).
Finally, we exchanged on the affect of the bag itself. Ernst noted that while he has used the bag for well over a decade, he is not in any way attached to it. The bag is fit for purpose at this time, so it is used at this time.