The Eggbeater Effect: How Time-Saving Technology Just Makes For More Work

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Aug 24, 2023

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The Eggbeater Effect: How Time-Saving Technology Just Makes For More Work

In today's fast-paced world, we are constantly bombarded with new technologies and gadgets that promise to make our lives easier and more efficient. From project management apps to labor-saving devices, it seems like there's always something new to help us save time. But is this really the case? Or does the introduction of these time-saving technologies actually create more work for us?

Sarah Marshall coins the term "the eggbeater effect" in a You're Wrong About episode, highlighting how the invention of labor-saving devices often raises our expectations of how we use our time. It's a strange paradox that despite having so many tools to save labor, little labor appears to have been saved. These devices change our expectations of work and how we allocate our time.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz suggests that lowering our expectations can actually make us happier. Instead of constantly striving for the best choice, opting for "good enough" can lead to greater satisfaction. This philosophy aligns with Abby Covert's concept of information architecture, where establishing what constitutes "good" is a critical task.

The way we spend our time is not just a matter of efficiency, but also a moral issue. If time is equated to money and possessing money is seen as a sign of favor, then how we use our time becomes a reflection of our moral duty. The narrative surrounding work and productivity influences our life decisions, whether we are aware of it or not.

However, labor-saving devices are not solely about saving time. They create the capacity for more work. With the ability to do more, the expectation becomes working more to earn more. It's a never-ending cycle that can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction.

John Maynard Keynes, a renowned economist, predicted that by the year 2000, we would not have to work more than 15 hours per week. He believed that increased efficiency would allow people to pursue the "art of life" instead of being solely focused on earning a living. Yet, here we are, still working long hours despite technological advancements.

The imbalance between technological innovation and economic innovation is not a new phenomenon. In the industrial revolution, technological advancements outpaced economic innovation, leading to economic turmoil. Today, we see a similar pattern with marketing, finance, and labor innovation surpassing economic innovation.

We live in a world where reach and audience size are often prioritized over quality and impact. Social media platforms provide us with the ability to broadcast our message to a massive audience, but does reach really measure the impact of our content? Are we building businesses based on potential reach rather than understanding who is truly listening?

The availability of virtual assistants and support professionals can tempt us to add more tasks to our plate. Just because we can outsource a task doesn't mean we should. It's important to prioritize meaningful results and avoid adding unnecessary work to our workload.

So, how can we navigate this eggbeater effect and find a balance between productivity and creativity? One approach is to embrace the concept of Zettelkasten, a note-taking system developed by the sociologist Niklas Luhmann. This system allows for the organization and connection of ideas in a non-hierarchical way.

Each note in the Zettelkasten has a unique index number, creating a branching hierarchy. The system encourages the creation of note links, similar to synapses between neurons, to exponentially increase the value of the system. By linking related ideas, new connections can be made among different topics.

The Zettelkasten is a decentralized network, allowing ideas to grow without any preconceived scheme. It anticipates the concept of hypertext and URLs, providing a flexible and adaptable system for organizing and connecting ideas.

While existing note-taking apps may lack certain functionalities of the Zettelkasten, newer platforms like Roam Research offer features such as backlinking and atomicity. Roam allows users to link and relate parts of notes to other notes, creating a visual graph of connections between ideas.

In conclusion, the eggbeater effect highlights the paradoxical nature of time-saving technologies. Instead of saving time, these devices often create more work and raise our expectations of productivity. To combat this effect, it is essential to prioritize meaningful results, lower our expectations, and embrace systems like Zettelkasten to boost creativity and productivity.

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