O, Happy Solstice, and Business
Kieran Healy of Crooked Timber, talking about the giant Celtic clock at Newgrange, and the Winter Solstice:
A society—a civilization, if you like—is a hard thing to hold together. If you live in an agrarian society, as the overwhelming majority of people did until about two hundred years ago, and you are on the western edge of Europe, few times are harder than the dead of Winter. The days are at their shortest, the sun is far away, and the Malthusian edge, in Brad DeLong’s phrase, is right in front of you. It’s no wonder so many religious festivals take place around the solstice. Here were a people, more than five millennia ago, able not only to pull through the Winter successfully, but able also to build a huge timepiece to remind themselves that they were going to make it. It’s astonishing.
I am in a post-Christmas-party fog this morning, so I can’t do my usual “really, this is totally related to software development even though it seems to be a cute story about my kid or something else off-topic” thing. Crooked Timber is a group academic blog having nothing to do with software (though some of the academics on it do research on web stuff; here’s a recent note about some research being done on social networking sites, for example.)
Actually, I’ll at least try to relate this to work/software/consulting/business: Sometimes you hear people lament the December slump in productivity, and blame it on the ‘holiday season’. As though if there were no pesky holidays to get in the way, then we’d all be going full-bore on our goals. The other day I read a post about how I could be using this holiday lull in billable hours to get a bunch of really useful stuff done. “Oh man,” I thought, “We totally need to do that stuff.” All the extra stuff on our site, for example, (the non-blog stuff) has not been updated for months, because we’ve been too busy working to change it to reflect more accurately the work that we’re actually doing these days. (And we are rapidly approaching the time when we can no longer claim to be in ‘really-real beta rather than google-style fake beta’, as it says in the sidebar.) And we need a better invoicing process. And so on. But the truth is that, like most everyone else, I’m not that productive right now, even though I don’t have the excuse that I have too many holiday commitments, or that I’m traveling.
People who think that it’s the holidays that cause a December drop in productivity have it totally backwards. It’s the December drop in productivity that causes the holidays.
We don’t live in the stone age anymore. We do not spend the long dark winter starving and freezing, huddled together in our huts. But we are still part of that rhythm. Our artificial lights and central heating and snowplows and de-icers do not entirely erase the feeling we have that now is the time to huddle together around a fire, not go to meetings and launch new projects.
Which is to say that the site will not come out of beta until 2008. Happy Holidays, everyone!
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