Last week in my blog post, I almost went down a rabbit trail related to our contemporary relationship with time. At the heart of our society’s love of the digital is its love for “saving time.”
Productivity and efficiency are words we see everywhere today. In fact, those words are so much part of our culture that we don’t even notice their presence anymore. But I want to pause and give some attention to those words and ask: Why is productivity so important?
I’ll preface my response by noting that I am currently up to my ears in school assignments and Ph.D applications. If you’ve talked with me lately, you have probably heard “survival mode” stated in correlation with my current state of being. So what follows is not nearly as academically rigorous as it could and should be. However, I don’t want to lose this opportunity to follow-up on last week’s post that explores a related topic, so I will briefly explore the question today, and hopefully, return to it in more depth later.
If you trace mankind’s history, humans have always sought to improve upon their situations–hence our ever-developing technologies. However, notions of progress and efficiency became particularly prevalent during the Enlightenment (late 17th & 18th centuries), Industrial Revolution (end of the 18th century to the early 19th century) and again during the turn of the century. With the rise of industrialism came the thinking: the more my factory produces, the more my factory will profit financially. Society shifted from a model of subsistence, where families or individuals made enough to survive, to an industrial system in which factories and large farms provides resources in bulk to consumers at a price. Pivotal to the success of this system was a productive use of time.
Henry Ford‘s assembly production line is a great example of the industrial focus on maximizing profits and time. The assembly line created a system that enabled workers to methodically and consistently assemble cars. This process, while potentially brain-numbing for the employees, sped up the production process tremendously.
In and of themselves, profits and/or efficiency are innocuous concepts. The problem is when producers (i.e. all of us in the digital age) get caught up in the need to be efficient and lose sight of why we are striving for productivity. Or when we highlight productivity or profit at the expense of the individuals involved, including ourselves. Reducing an employee to an automaton has some serious ethical concerns. In a similar fashion, if our lives are so driven by a need to fit in as much as possible into a day, we need to pause and question our motives, along with the impact that productivity has had both on us and those around us.
I am all about getting things done–anyone who has worked or lived with me can attest to that. However, I have often done that at the expense of my health, my relationships, and ironically, my ultimate efficacy. I do so with a sense of duty because the notion of productivity has become so engrained in our culture that we treat it like a virtue. But productivity is not a virtue; rather it is a product of the industrial age. Instead, we should be consciously taking advantage of the leisure time that technology frees up for us rather than using that extra time to simply accomplish more.
So my encouragement to you is this: take a moment to stop and question the patterns of progress, productivity, and efficiency in your life. Why do they exist? Did you consciously introduce them into your routines? What could be changed? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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This week’s featured image is courtesy of the National Archives and is under public domain.