As an Economist, I constantly analyze things from an optimization perspective. I identify resources, they way they have been spent and all the possible ways they could have been spent. But from time to time, I am afraid people lose sight of the big picture as they seek to optimize, by being shortsighted.
There is a great book, by W. Andrew Robinson, called “The Last Man Who Knew Everything”. There was a fundamental shift on the way we distribute and develop knowledge in the past century. Information is becoming more available, yet knowledge becomes more scarce. A lot of focus on techniques, while we lose sight of the the fundamental questions: how will you do it becoming more important than why, and we can see this clearly by the way human beings substituted philosophy by science on their seek for answers. Being smart became more important than being wise. This all happened because of the compartmentalization of knowledge itself. Division of labor, the great solution analyzed by Adam Smith at the Wealth of Nations has become in itself the great trap of our generation. We have specialists for everything, and they are incapable of talking to each other to solve more complex issues that go beyond their limited field of study. We need a few more generalists to be the glue of knowledge and keep society to fall apart and lose the interdisciplinary understanding we have developed up to this point.
But the whole reason I started writing this post was to talk about the illusion of productivity and the optimization that we put ourselves in. We see our time is precious, so we try to multi task. We decay in attention of everything we do, spending more time we needed and with a worse outcome. We think any free time we have we must be entertained, so we watch Netflix before sleep and dint get enough sleep or properly watch the show (so much so that Netflix puts in an algorithm to ask us if we are still watching every so often), we listen to music as we shower or ride the bus, we eat as we work, forgetting what food tastes like. We are so worried about losing time that we are losing ourselves in the process, since we no longer spend time with our thoughts. We have life crises because we don’t know what to do, and yet we spend no time trying to figure it out.
I am no better. I hate taking exams not because they are hard (which they are)… it is the awkward silence and the impossibility of doing anything else that bothers me.
So how do we rise above? How do we go back to being comfortable with our own company, and eat a proper meal tasting the food, or sleep without needing to distract yourself until your body gives up? I believe it all goes back to the painful prices of developing new habits and accepting a personal challenge of growth.