Daniel Agee is a photographer, designer, and community manager who helps independent businesses and non-profits tell better stories.

Spending Time at XOXO 2015

At this year’s XOXO, we hugged, photographed, and interviewed 82 attendees, asking them one question: “What should you be spending more time on?”

I’d like to explain the thinking behind the project and talk about what was good, what was bad, how I screwed up, and how we’ll improve in the future.

The Good

The positive response to last year’s project, For Yourself, was beyond anything we could have hoped for — but not without critique. The main critique was that while the question “What is it you do or make only for yourself?” was a good one, it was also privileged. While I don’t agree with that assessment completely, I understand the sentiment and agree that it varies from person to person.

Jason and I spent a few months workshopping and fine-tuning this year’s question. Instead of having people talk about what they make (or can afford to make), we wanted to talk with them about how they spend their time. Understandably, it’s not perfect because having free time can be a by-product of privilege, but for us it’s more about intention.

Spending time intentionally is something I’ve been struggling with recently, which is how we arrived at the wording of the question. We purposefully used the word Should instead of Want.

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http://www.spendingtime.co/people/crystal-beasley/

I’d like to point out Crystal Beasley’s interview because she brings up exactly what Jason and I were going back on forth on:

“I object to the question because it uses the word should. There’s so much I should do, but it causes me to ignore what I want to do. Both with my day-to-day life, but also with my career.”

It breaks down to a personal place in time. For some people, spending time on what they want to do is what they need. For others, it’s what they should be doing that they need to focus on.

We understand that there’s a delicate balance. The reason we chose Should over Want was an attempt at intention. That there’s something we should all be spending more time on, but we’re not. And it’s probably not playing video games, which could have been the easy answer.

This year’s project was sponsored by Big Cartel. They’re wonderful. Beyond being a great indie product, they’re actively working on diversity — both in the industry and their own hiring practices. I mean, read any of the descriptions on their jobs page. (Disclosure: I worked at Big Cartel for a year in 2013.)

I made an effort to not photograph people from last year’s project in this one to gain more points of view. 80% of the interviewees didn’t partake in last year’s project.

We’re most proud of this year is the gender ratio of interviewees. Last year, we didn’t do a good enough job including women in the project. This year, I kept it front and center in my mind while I was shooting the project and actively tracked it.

By the end of XOXO, we interviewed 42 women and 40 men.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the racial diversity for Spending Time is abysmal at ~25%. While that’s much better than last year’s, it’s simply not good enough. If XOXO happens again, we’re going to do better and improve that number.

This year’s interviews were longer, which means we didn’t get to include the full text of everyone’s answer because I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with the conversation. This also may have caused a sentence or two to be paraphrased. (If you see something wrong with your answer, please reach out to hi@monograph.me and we’ll sort it out.)

As we keep doing Monograph projects and learning what works and what doesn’t, we’ll keep getting better. We’re going to look into recording the conversations and transcribing them afterwards so we can quote accurately 100% of the time. It will slow down how quickly we can post the project after the event, but that may be worth it in the long run.

The Ugly

On the last day of XOXO, I fucked up. I was exhausted and I completely screwed up an interview request.

I sat down at a table during lunch and asked if two women would like to take part in the project. I brought my friend Lane with me because I didn’t want to approach them alone. If the need arose, she could vouch for the project.

Unfortunately, that was the only good thing I did during the interview request. I said “Hi guys” when it was a table of women, I forgot to introduce myself, didn’t talk about the project well, or mention that XOXO was passively involved with it (XO helped by providing me a festival pass).

One of the women immediately said no (“I don’t like hugging strangers.”) and another asked a few questions before turning me down. I thanked them for their time and left.

Shortly after, they told Andy McMillan (one of the organizer’s of XOXO) that they felt harassed.

All of this was completely my fault and I feel awful about it. The thought that I ruined 10 minutes of someone’s XOXO is infuriating to me. I care deeply about the festival and the experiences that it can foster. I contemplated wrapping up the project then, but after an hour or two, decided to keep going. While I’m glad I kept going, the weight of that interaction is still weighing on me.

From now on, the hug is going to be an optional part of the project. Physical contact shouldn’t be required to take part in an art project.


Monograph, and by extension Spending Time, is a passion project for Jason and I. We make very little money doing it; we just care about people. The people at XOXO are something special and we can’t wait to see you next year. Well, if XOXO happens again next year.

Monograph is a documentation project by Daniel Fitzgerald and Jason Sutter. If you run an event or project that you think would be a good fit, we’d love to help tell your story. Head to Monograph and get in touch.

This article was originally published on Medium.

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Get in touch if you’re interested in working on a project together. I’d love to help tell your story.