Law in the Internet Society

The Paradox of Efficiency

-- By JakeBlecher - 02 Feb 2020

To achieve, we must first lose. Time seems to be the most valuable commodity in our society, and yet the infinite wealth of choices and its use as a metric for success work in tandem to undermine its value; in fact, while they aim to allow time to be filled more efficiently, they cause it to be wasted. The only way to avoid this result is to accept its inevitability and reject the notion that we have been raised to believe; having everything at your fingertips isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The Need for Efficiency

Interconnectedness allows us all to experience and learn new things, however nothing good comes without a price. An exponentially-increasing exposure to knowledge, skills, and consumable media paralyzes those of us who have never lived without it - the range of choices is simply far too great. The act of choosing which avenue to pursue at any given moment is overwhelming, as the list is seemingly infinite and no choice feels truly informed.

A Ticking Clock

This paralysis has led to an extreme response. Many within this newest generation have chosen not to choose - rather, to pursue each and every open path. However, there is far too much to accomplish in any one person’s life. Let’s say the extent of our universal knowledge base consisted only of consumable media, and within that, television shows, and within that further, television shows within the science-fiction genre. The Wikipedia page titled “List of science fiction television programs by genre” attempts to act as an inclusive list of shows that fall within this category - it reports approximately 2,752 programs. Using an average of 100 episodes per program and 30 minutes per episode, you would need to spend almost 16 straight years to watch the entirety of that content. The average lifespan is 75 years - approximately 22 of those are spent asleep and approximately 13 are spent at work. Watching the programs above would take more than 1/3 of the remaining time off of your life. But science fiction television doesn’t make up the sum total of human knowledge - it barely even counts as a percentage of the whole. Those growing up in this world of infinite exploration run these calculations incessantly. We can literally feel the sands of time flowing to the bottom of the hourglass, hear the endless ticking of the clock.

Split Attention

The impossibility of the above has led to an evolution of thought. While it might be impossible to absorb the entirety of this information, perhaps a majority could be achieved? 16 years, 1/3 of your free life, suddenly doesn’t seem as bad if you can accomplish two or three or four times as much in that period. Why just watch an episode of television when I can simultaneously catch up on emails, cook dinner, and research a bit as well? Sure, no one thing will get done as well - I won’t fully retain all of the details from the show, the emails might be rushed, my dinner might be a little worse for wear - but surely the overall gain from that period of time is greater? 80% times 4 is still far more than 100% times 1.

The Rejection of Efficiency

All of the above, the conclusion that doing multiple things at once is ultimately beneficial, is premised on one important idea; that efficiency is desirable above all else. That quantity trumps quality, so long as the cumulative quality of whatever is produced exceeds that of a lesser quantity. Without that premise, the argument falls apart. If it turns out that one excellent book is better than five pretty good ones, then efficiency should not be sought at the expense of all else.

Punishing Productivity

The workforce in our society is based around time. Time is literally money, with most professions tying at least part of their compensation structure to an hourly counter. This leads to what would seem like a rather counter-productive message; productivity, or to be more accurate, efficiency, is bad. If I could finish a task in 2 hours and receive 2 hours of credit, or stretch my time, take 5 hours and receive 5 hours of credit, how could I not choose the latter? Sure, there are certain boundaries of reasonability. You can’t spend an obviously excessive amount of time on work or it will become obvious that you are either unequipped for the job or taking advantage of the system. But that still leaves a fair bit of wiggle room. The burning desire for efficiency is replaced by a lethargy and realization that such ambition is punished, or at least not rewarded.

A Better Approach to Efficiency?

Like in most cases, neither of the extremes is good. The need for efficiency has reframed the way a generation looks at the world. Suddenly, doing only one or two things at a time feels incredibly unproductive, to the point where we will actively seek secondary tasks in any given moment to serve as a means of splitting attention. Yet, on the other hand, the rejection of efficiency has led to a feeling of resentment and underutilization of talents. The simple requirement of writing hours on a timesheet encourages procrastination and wasted time - as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter, right? And the combination of these mindsets is infinitely more dangerous. We approach work with the intention of spending large amounts of time on other goals, and then proceed to feel anxiety and unrest at the lack of meaningfulness in our time. There’s no way to succeed at any one thing without first abandon the hope of succeeding at them all. It’s difficult to admit that despite the access we have, we need to give up some desires to achieve others. It’s hard to retrain our brains, but that is the only way we will be able to resolve this paradox they’ve created. Otherwise, our quest for efficiency will leave us floundering in the end.

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r4 - 02 Feb 2020 - 22:27:38 - JakeBlecher
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