“we’re knee-deep in project management apps” but “we’re left with little headspace”

LSE professor Judy Wacjman explains why “time-saving technology has completely backfired:” First, there’s the question: is a “hyper-productive philosophy—and the digital devices it breeds—actually conducive to genuine inventiveness and imagination?” She argues that

it actually stifles innovation. When we’re knee-deep in project management apps, we’re left with little headspace to think of ways to challenge the status quo, question the assumptions that permeate our political discourse and create new possibilities for the future.

Moreover, the consequences of supposedly time-saving technologies are far from straightforward. The humble washing machine certainly reduces the drudgery and hard physical labor of laundry. But it also raises our standards of cleanliness, and thus our expectations. The result is that we now wash our clothes much more frequently than we used to.

In other words, performing a task faster does not mean we’ll do it less frequently. We may wind up doing it more.

This is a paradox lurking in the background of REST. We assume that there’s a linear relationship between our creativity and productivity, and the amount of time we spend working– in the office, consciously attending to our jobs. But in fact there isn’t: not only is there good research indicating that there are pretty hard limits to the amount of overtime you can put in before you start being counterproductive, but this attitude also means we end up short-circuiting our mind’s capacity to solve problem, develop solutions, make connections when we aren’t consciously working– when we’re strategically mind-wandering, going on walks, etc.

There is, by the way, a little cottage industry of books by trendy academics on how no one has any more time, how this represents an “acceleration of capitalism,” etc. In 2014, we had Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep with Verso, Judy Wacjman’s Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism from U. of Chicago, and Mark Taylor’s Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left with Yale. Doubtless there were others, but it’s notable little turn in the academic zeitgeist.

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