Monday, June 11, 2012

Timed Writing: 6/5/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... it is easy to predict the response of the other prisoners..."
Source: 6 x 1 x 5 + 6 x 4 + 4 = Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

After so much time spent watching them, when a change occurs -- a new arrival, or an alteration to our diet -- it is easy to predict the response of the other prisoners. For them, however, I am the new arrival, and they make predictions about me based only on past experiences with other new arrivals that predated me. In my predictions about them, however, I benefit from having previously observed these specific prisoners.

I know these men and women. I know them, in some ways, better than they know themselves. I know not their pasts, but rather their presents and, with only a shade of uncertainty, their near futures. I know them at this exact moment when the door opens on the common area and some of them glance up from their porridge or their cast-off newspapers to meet the trying-to-appear frightened face of me, the inductee. I know them at this moment in time because this is the seven thousand, four hundred and twenty-fifth time that I have walked through this door, at this exact moment.

The only difference, at each of my entrances has been my age. It is a short experiment that I run with this cohort of prisoners, but even so, it requires between seven and thirteen minutes of my life each time I perform it. The distributions of durations is slightly skewed such that on average, it is an eight-point-five minute operation. Following each repetition, I must spend between ten and twenty-five minutes in a debrief and analysis session -- call it seventeen minutes average. Thus, in a given five-hour shift, I can, perform my task twelve times. When weekends, holidays, academic conferences, family emergencies, and sick days are factored, I work about eighteen days per month, and average one-point-seven-five shifts per day, for a grand total of three hundred seventy-eight repetitions of the experiment per month.

Obviously, the evolution of my physical appearance due to aging, is negligible between any two successive repetitions -- or even between two repetitions separated by less than a few months. However, I am now in my twentieth year of this series of experiments, so my own age has become quite important, necessitating modification of our analytical methods. There was even talk of replacing me entirely -- of finding a younger operator who might, in physical appearance more closely resemble my early self. Given the replicability of the study scenario, however, it was ultimately determined that while the observations of other, younger operators would be valuable in parallel to my own, I would provide vital information about the effects, on the subjects, of subtle differences in the operator across observations. And so, I continue my work.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Seth said...

I would like to see where this story goes.

M. Huw Evans said...

Well, you're in luck. This prompt actually fit well with a larger story idea I've been developing, so whether this exact character and scenario make the final cut or not, the underlying concept will be explored in much detail. It will probably be one of the stories I write at CW.

Thanks for the comment.