New Year is the time for lists and change. If you have been looking for inspiration this January the American folk singer Woody Guthrie’s 33 resolutions from 1942 might help. It is a humorous and curious list; including aspirational and political activities that are readily associated with Guthrie (#19 Keep hoping machine running ; #27 Help win war — beat fascism and #33 Wake up and fight); aspirations that appear more conventional (#2 Work by a schedule; #21 Bank all extra money; #22 Save dough and #24 Send Mary and kids money); a mild obsession with mundane acts of cleanliness (#3 Wash teeth if any; #4Shave; #5 Take bath and #12 Change bed cloths often) and commitment to family and friends (# 28 Love mama; #29 Love papa; #30 Love Pete and #31 Love everybody). We might conclude that a commitment to political and social revolution does not mitigate the need for personal hygiene and financial prudence.
As an example of New Year resolutions Guthrie’s list is also curious as he does not identify new projects or activities to do. His political commitment to fighting for justice and against fascism is reconfirmed. While I can only speculate about his personal hygiene, pictures suggest he did at least shave regularly; and I doubt that financially supporting and loving his family was a new endeavour. In 1942 Guthrie was committing himself to do more or do better what he was already doing.
Like Guthrie I have also made a number of commitments to bring about change in 2019. As part of the Leverhulme research fellowship on busyness I am immersing myself in the technologies and strategies of time management. This January I have started a regime of using different forms of technology, both old (journaling) and new (wearable technologies), to observe and regulate daily activities. These all involve setting goals. So I have started 2019 with a commitment to a variety of numerically defined targets including:
• 10k steps
• 30 minutes activity
• 8 hours sleep
• 22 BMI
• 8 glasses of water a day
• 3 habits a month to change
• 101 dreams and people who I want to meet
This commitment to regulating daily life by arbitrary numbers (10k steps is a convenient number rather than a scientifically proven benefit) would appear to be emblematic of Deleuze’s numerical code of control. In control society Deleuze identifies an ongoing commitment to change, he writes for example how young people ‘re-request apprenticeship and permanent training’. Yet these processes of change in control society are short-lived. How long until our obsessions with 10k steps and 8 hours of sleep are replaced with other arbitrary goals to regulate and monitor everyday life?
The goals that I am signed up to mostly require identifying aspects of myself that I should try to change. Breaking down these undesirable habits and embodied behaviours to specific numerical goals is meant to make the process of change more achievable. The technologies that I am using not only monitor everyday practices but also provide ‘rewards’. Goals are reached, badges and medals are awarded and I am allowed to ‘treat’ myself.
The problem with this teleological logic of change is, as Deleuze predicts, that it can never be completed. Once goals are reached they are replaced with new ambitions. This is how my resolutions of 2019 differ from Guthrie’s 1942 commitments. Rather than identifying goals, Guthrie’s resolutions are non-teleological. In writing his list he focussed on what he was already doing rather than what habits he needed to change. Guthrie was committed to bringing about change in American society. It is worth reflecting that his orientation to change was realised through commitment to his beliefs, himself and his family, rather than arbitrary goals of 10k steps, 8 hours sleep or even 101 dreams.