Resisting the Tyranny of Productivity

Briefly, an additional thought on the Programmable World (in which ubiquitous wireless sensors make objects and machines “smart”): The envisioned Programmable World, as Bill Wasik has called it, is a tremendously sophisticated time- and labor-saving technology. Just think of all that we will not have to worry about or do when machines “talking” to each other will automatically do it for us.

But … the promise of time- and labor-saving technology is rarely fulfilled. See Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave for a book-length validation of that claim.

Really, the effect of such technologies is to instill in us the ideals of efficiency and productivity. And that just gets tiresome. In an earlier post I wrote that the Programmable World would enable us to sleepwalk through life. Allow me to take that back. The Programmable World will encourage us to speed-walk through life. But really, the two are not so different – sleep walking and speed walking. In both cases, you’ve taken leave of the present.

So here, free of charge, is your inoculation, for today, against the tyranny of efficiency and productivity.

Pieter Brueghel, The Harvesters (1565)
Pieter Brueghel, The Harvesters (1565)

10 thoughts on “Resisting the Tyranny of Productivity

  1. YES. The tyranny of productivity. The more you can do, the more you’re expected to show for it.

    And we’re not talking just about what is recognized as “work.” When play happens in a digital network, that’s productivity, too.

    I’m less sure about “speed-walking through life,” though. I’m not sure it quite captures that drive and pressure to produce. But it’s closer than sleepwalking.

  2. For all that technology has enabled me to achieve in the past ten years, I feel a certain gratitude; for all the time I have lost in addressing myself to the language of technology, not to mention the redundancy of approaches to what is a simple action in the same, the hours lost due to electrical failure and/or the present lack of perfection in these opening years of technical machinery, I remain not only sad but bewildered. I have become something close to a hermit in these years due to the fact that anyone I know prefers the mediocrity of addressing ten or fifteen projects per day, and equally, accepting such mediocrity in their dealings with me with the caveat that “progress is progress” and if I cannot accept the elevation of “accident” to the rank of “rule” then I must be either intolerant or bigoted, or both. Incompetence and a total disregard for upholding the standard of one’s word has been entirely embraced as the “norm” in business and personal dealings, and all in the name of “progress.” Still, yes! I am grateful for what peace of mind there can be in being able rarely to leave my home for the necessities of life which in turn supports the almost hermit-like existence that technological progress has foisted upon me now that friends and enemies prefer emails to conversation, tweets to emails, and waving as they drive by to their ten or eleven appointments and signally with hand gestures that I should call them, or leave a message on their machines.

  3. Ah! To be able to just rest under the shade of a tree without feeling like a complete loser! Technology has made things quicker and forced us to be constantly on the go. What are you doing? What are you thinking? Where are you now and with whom? We’re lambasted with these questions on social media all the time and to such an extent that we forget to just live our own lives and put on a production instead.

  4. Very interesting thoughts and very ambiguous. I fully agree with the obsevration that despite having technology to minimise time spent on daily routine, we have less and less free time. ´Free´ time is filled up with some other routines and at the end of the day, fully exhausted, we cannot recall what exactly kept us so busy. However, technology gave a helpful hand to women, allowed them to find some time for creativity instead of washing clothes all the time. My mother still washes everything (even bedsheets!) manually, works full time but has no time to enjoy life (or, perhaps, the logical chain should start from the end of the sentence)…

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