Tuesday, November 24, 2015

So what if I am inefficient!

In graduate school, when I was just about learning to write essays--boy was that a struggle!--I wanted to write a paper questioning the primacy of efficiency and productivity.  But, back in those days, I had difficulty even piecing together a couple of sentences that made sense, leave along a 2,500-word essay.  I tell ya, no wonder I keep getting those nightmares every once in a while! ;)

I am far from a chop-chop guy; I am always wandering about.  The things that I like are never about efficiency either--from cooking to playing bridge to reading to grading essays to ... I mean, even on the "bike" path, I don't care to bike but prefer to walk.  Biking seems like wanting to rush through the experience.  It is not that I am wandering like a cow on a grassy meadow; I have a plan, of course.

So, where was I?  ;)

Contemporary economic conditions prize efficiency and productivity.  The drive to more and better while being faster. All the speed for what?  Especially when it is even in our personal lives?
If I’m using Google Maps, it’ll quickly alert me when a faster route becomes available. I speed even when I’m not in a hurry, just to see the minutes disappear on my ETA—to see that I’ve saved precious time. The very idea that I’ve “saved time” can give a sensation of pleasure and satisfaction.
Meanwhile, commercials offer quick-and-easy alternatives to any and every cooking, housecleaning, or maintenance job. Dinners get hurriedly prepared in microwaves or crockpots, coffee in Keurigs or even instant packets. Because efficiency—time saved—beckons to us like sirens from every corner.
What the hell do people then use that "saved time" for?
There’s nothing wrong with such desires. But when efficiency becomes an obsession, our lives become a constant, headlong rush. Our obsession with saving time results in no time—at least no time for the sorts of slowness that lead to bursts of intellectual creativity, physical health, and spiritual contemplation.
The ones who "saved time" and are in a rush always seem to be in a rush.  And then there are people like me who seemingly move like sloths but get the job done anyway.  What is with the speed?
 Speed has become the measure of success—faster chips, faster computers, faster networks, faster connectivity, faster news, faster communications, faster transactions, faster deals, faster delivery, faster product cycles, faster brains, faster kids. Why are we so obsessed with speed, and why can’t we break its spell?
Maybe speed is nothing but a fear of being alone.  Wait, let me explain.  In the old days, men and women in the villages were in their group settings.  They talked, laughed, cried, together--essentially wasted time.  That was the life they led.  Now, after the efficiency revolution, we are increasingly by ourselves.
Over time, technological developments have enabled workers to move away from a reliance on colleagues for support and instead trust in a system for getting things done.
Alone at work and at home.  We then don't know what to do with ourselves.  We want to run far away from that loneliness.  But, as much as we run, well, we find that we are alone all over again.  And then we run at even faster speeds!
I often wonder, too, if our obsession with productivity—with “filled time,” in essence—is stemming from a fear of free time. If we’re ever stuck in a moment of silence, we usually turn on the radio or television, grab our phones, or log onto our computers. We have to fill the empty space.

You see how quickly got to this point? ;)


Anne in Salem said...

I thought the purpose of efficiency was to get to the fun stuff, like long dinners with friends and family or walks in the woods or concerts.

Efficiency is wonderful. Inefficiency drives me nuts. Waste of any kind drives me nuts, and inefficiency is waste. Efficiency and rapidity as ends to themselves are questionable, but efficiency and rapidity that enable other pleasures in life are to be applauded.

Be sure to take some of your time off this week to watch the original "Cheaper by the Dozen" with Clifton Webb, Myrna Loy and Jeanne Craine. (Don't bother with the remake.) You will laugh till you cry. Definitely something worth speeding up for.

Mike Hoth said...

I find that people only want to rush through things that they believe to be unworthy their time. Many of your students (not me, I swear!) would rather be at the bar eating cheap tacos and getting drunk than writing a paper for your classes. They have convinced themselves that the paper is a chore instead of an opportunity, and chores are not fun. Binge drinking is fun, or so I keep hearing. The people who whizz by you on the bike path don't think biking is fun, they're getting exercise because they're supposed to. It's not FUN. 8 hours of work seems to go forever for people because they have to do it. Watching "Breaking Bad" for that long is a different story.

Sriram Khé said...

Thankfully you did not speed-read through my post for the sake of efficiency ;)

"Breaking bad" ... "Cheaper by the dozen" ... what contrasting tastes between the two commenters!!! ;)

Most read this past month