My mission was simple: write a blog post. With my laptop ready and ideas beginning to flow, nothing was going to stop me, right?
Half an hour later, I stared dejectedly at my WordPress writing panel containing just one lone sentence. I was in trouble, but the worst was yet to come.
My Google Mail Checker Chrome extension made its presence felt, as it does when a new email arrives in my inbox. Curiosity is a difficult animal to tame. I clicked on the icon reading the subject line, intrigued: “Update to [some app] Jam-Packed With Boatloads of New Features! Download for free now!”
Like a kid at a candy store, I could not turn down this incredible offer. Soon thereafter, an hour vanishes. When I finally manage to run into the forgotten tab containing my unfinished blog post, I realize my motivation to finish what I started was gone.
Such is the current state of technology in my life. It is a constant battle every day, one in which I am ill-prepared to face. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Push notifications/pings from tweets, emails, or texts demand your immediate attention. Our technology continues to evolve at a frenzied pace, and in the process, morphs us into slaves dependent on the drug of constant connectivity and the lure of automation.
Remember back in the day when we struggled to remember phone numbers of friends and family or to pick up some food on your way home from school/work? Yeah, me neither.
With the Internet at our fingertips, who has to ever remember anything when they can simply consult Google?
A group of researchers at Columbia wondered the same thing in a recent study published on the topic. In the study, researchers concluded that “the Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.”
Yes, I only read the abstract. Time is money, people.
Pressed for time, people become opportunity seekers. With some end goal in mind, people pursue the fastest route towards satisfying their needs, regardless of the process leading up to it.
Reading on the Internet is one case in point. No one reads. When was the last time you read a 1000+ word blog post? Funny you should ask.
Current trends for fixing the problem
One trend towards reducing unproductivity stemming from the use of technology is to combat it with more technology. In other words, build tools with a focus on getting things done.
The abundance of todo apps popping up every day is a prime example of this trend. Just to name a few: Toodledoo, Omnifocus, Teuxdeux, Remember the Milk, and the appropriately named and trademarked, Todo. Go ahead, try it yourself.
Automation, maximizing efficiency, eliminating time-consuming tasks. Such lofty goals, with mixed results. Will technology continue to keep us occupied watching another cat video on Youtube, or will it evolve to solve a problem it manifested?
Crippling Your Technology
During one of my distracted excursions on the Internet, I came across an article by Matt Might titled “Boost your productivity: Cripple your technology.” In it, Might reflects that with the current state of technology, “the transaction cost to procrastination has become zero.” Sites like reddit and Youtube are a mere click away. Especially during a moment of frustration or laziness, it’s damn near impossible to resist the urge to “give yourself a break” from all the endless work sitting on your desk.
Later, Might states that “for many of us, the biggest gains in productivity do not come from following a specific methodology for ‘getting things done.’ It comes from erecting transaction costs to nonproductive behavior.” From there, he suggests various solutions to increasing one’s productivity including blocking time-wasting websites and going offline.
He also introduced the “productivity paradox,” which was coined by economist Erik Brynjolfsson, and describes how the exponential growth of technology has not coincided with parallel improvements in productivity.
In some ways, this is true in the sense that people’s general productivity has not matched the exponential rise of today’s technology. But that doesn’t mean we are not finding better solutions to complete time-consuming tasks using new technology. People aren’t as quick to change at the same pace as technology. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and old habits always die hard.
Have you ever tried to show someone how to do something on their computer? There was this one occasion when a friend of mine was trying to show me a website they found earlier, but couldn’t exactly remember how he found it. At first, he started typing random URL’s into the address bar hoping to find the correct website. WHY DON’T YOU FIND IT ON GOOGLE?!” I thought. Who in their right mind would do that?
But, it got worse. As if he had read my mind, he switched to plan B, Google. But, rather then type in his query in the search bar in the top-right(it was Firefox), he went straight to Google.com. AN EXTRA STEP?? WHY MUST YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF??
This goes back to my prior point about how people simply muddle through. If in the end, they accomplish their goal(ie, they find that site about autocorrect fails they were dying to show you), they won’t reflect back on what had happened and reexamine what they should and shouldn’t have done. If it works, stick to it. Don’t try to change things.
Constant change is technology’s middle name. When paired together with us stubborn creatures, it’s no surprise that the end result makes us only marginally more productive with our time.
Photo by Gianluca Annicchiarico