Friday, December 3, 2010

The varying forms of mindlessness

I am in one of those fields that depending on who you talk to bemoans the inroads fluffy relativism has made on the scientific method, or condemns the evil (post-)positivists and their neo-colonial plots, or simply prides itself on mixed method approaches.  The upshot of which is that being mostly in the latter category, I find myself wrestling with both quantitative and qualitative analyses. Both of these have their mindless data prepping steps; for the quantitative data it's organizing the data such that it can be meaningfully read by SPSS, for the qualitative data it's transcribing interviews.  These are both mindless and boring activities, at least in their initial stages.  Yet for some reason, I can get really into the quantitative manipulations, focusing entirely on the spreadsheet and being very disgruntled when I have to do anything else.    Transcription, on the other hand, makes me want to jump up after ten minutes and do anything else, even washing dishes, or hanging laundry, or all sorts of other odious cleaning tasks I normally hate.  I don't understand the difference.  It's not as though transcription is harder (if anything it's easier), and it's not as if organizing numbers in a spreadsheet is fun.  So how can I completely lose myself in one sort of mindlessness and fail so utterly at concentrating on the other?

5 comments:

  1. I had a roommate who had to transcribe all her field interviews of RNC protesters. She had a foot-pedal thing for starting and stopping, and when she was doing a full day of it she would spend two minutes (with timer) in her room, then come out and open the fridge and contemplate lunch, two minutes in the room, followed by getting out one pan, and so on back and forth with each single step of making lunch. From that I gather it is _extremely_, horribly, mind-numbing to continue on.

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  2. I cannot imagine using quantitative data in any significant degree in my work, so I can't speak to that. But Sisyphus is largely right: transcription is mind-numbing. (Except for the occasional curious statement which you want to parse precisely, where you find yourself getting excited as you toggle back and forth over the quarter-second of speech.) You have to get into the groove, and without an enticing interview to work on, that groove probably isn't gonna get up in yo' face.

    That said, Sis' roomie's tactic sounds counterproductive. I recommend forcing yourself to focus on the transcription for a while, say, half an hour. Two minutes and two minutes off = you will accomplish fuck-all.

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  3. I've built quant datasets (though I don't do anything more than run publicly available numbers for distributions in my own work), and there is something pleasantly concrete about it. This is a three; you have determined its three-ness, and the three now exists, and you don't need to think about the three anymore. Plus, there are all sorts of meta/framing questions that you get to determine, so it feels Productive. It's great. I can easily lose a couple of hours on SPSS...whereas, if I try to translate, say, for more than half an hour at a time, it's a lost cause.

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  4. Thanks for the advice, all--I think I may have been pushing for too much time in transcription (half hour blocks followed by a break). Hopefully, less can become more.

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  5. Thanks for the advice, all--I think I may have been pushing for too much time in transcription (half hour blocks followed by a break). Hopefully, less can become more.

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