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<h1>Some reasons to work on productivity and velocity</h1>
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<p>A common topic of discussion among my close friends is where the bottlenecks are in our productivity and how we can execute more quickly. This is very different from what I see in my extended social circles, where people commonly say that <a href="https://twitter.com/danluu/status/1440106603093495810">velocity doesn't matter</a>. In online discussions about this, I frequently see people go a step further and assign moral valence to this, saying that it is actually bad to try to increase velocity or be more productive or work hard (see appendix for more examples).</p>
<p>The top reasons I see people say that productivity doesn't matter (or is actually bad) fall into one of three buckets:</p>
<ul> <li>Working on the right thing is more important than working quickly</li> <li>Speed at X doesn't matter because you don't spend much time doing X</li> <li>Thinking about productivity is bad and you should "live life"</li> </ul>
<p>I certainly agree that working on the right thing is important, but increasing velocity doesn't stop you from working on the right thing. If anything, each of these is a force multiplier for the other. Having strong execution skills becomes more impactful if you're good at picking the right problem and vice versa.</p>
<p>It's true that the gains from picking the right problem can be greater than the gains from having better tactical execution because the gains from picking the right problem can be unbounded, but it's also much easier to improve tactical execution and doing so also helps with picking the right problem because having faster execution lets you experiment more quickly, which helps you find the right problem.</p>
<p>A concrete example of this is a project I worked on to quantify the machine health of the fleet. The project discovered a number of serious issues (a decent fraction of hosts were actively corrupting data or had a performance problem that would increase tail latency by &gt; 2 orders of magnitude, or both). This was considered serious enough that a new team was created to deal with the problem.</p>
<p>In retrospect, my first attempts at quantifying the problem were doomed and couldn't have really worked (or not in a reasonable amount of time, anyway). I spent a few weeks cranking through ideas that couldn't work and a critical part of getting to the idea that did work after "only" a few weeks was being able to quickly try out and discard ideas that didn't work. In part of a previous post, I described how long a tiny part of that process took and multiple people objected to that being impossibly fast in internet comments.</p>
<p>I find this a bit funny since I'm not a naturally quick programmer. <a href="/learning-to-program/">Learning to program was a real struggle for me</a> and I was pretty slow at it for a long time (and I still am in aspects that I haven't practiced). My "one weird trick" is that I've explicitly worked on speeding up things that I do frequently and most people have not. I view the situation as somewhat analogous to sports before people really trained. For a long time, many athletes didn't seriously train, and then once people started trying to train, the training was often misguided by modern standards. For example, if you read commentary on baseball from the 70s, you'll see people saying that baseball players shouldn't weight train because it will make them "muscle bound" (many people thought that weight lifting would lead to "too much" bulk, causing people to be slower, have less explosive power, and be less agile). But today, players get a huge advantage from using performance-enhancing drugs that increase their muscle-bound-ness, which implies that players could not get too "muscle bound" from weight training alone. An analogous comment to one discussed above would be saying that athletes shouldn't worry about power/strength and should increase their skill, but power increases returns to skill and vice versa.</p>
<p>Coming back to programming, if you explicitly practice and train and almost no one else does, you'll be able to do things relatively quickly compared to most people even if, like me, you don't have much talent for programming and getting started at all was a real struggle. Of course, there's always going to be someone more talented out there who's executing faster after having spent less time improving. But, luckily for me, <a href="/p95-skill/">relatively few people seriously attempt to improve</a>, so I'm able to do ok.</p>
<p>Anyway, despite operating at a rate that some internet commenters thought was impossible, it took me weeks of dead ends to find something that worked. If I was doing things at a speed that people thought was normal, I suspect it would've taken long enough to find a feasible solution that I would've dropped the problem after spending maybe one or two quarters on it. The number of plausible-ish seeming dead ends was probably not unrelated to why the problem was still an open problem despite being a critical issue for years. Of course, someone who's better at having ideas than me could've solved the problem without the dead ends, but as we discussed earlier, it's fairly easy to find low hanging fruit on "execution speed" and not so easy to find low hanging fruit on "having better ideas". However, it's possible to, to a limited extent, simulate someone who has better ideas than me by being able to quickly try out and discard ideas (I also work on having better ideas, but I think it makes sense to go after the easier high ROI wins that are available as well). Being able to try out ideas quickly also improves the rate at which I can improve at having better ideas since a key part of that is building intuition by getting feedback on what works.</p>
<p>The next major objection is that speed at a particular task doesn't matter because time spent on that task is limited. At a high level, I don't agree with this objection because, while this may hold true for any particular kind of task, the solution to that is to try to improve each kind of task and not to reject the idea of improvement outright. A sub-objection people have is something like "but I spend 20 hours in unproductive meetings every week, so it doesn't matter what I do with my other time". I think this is doubly wrong, in that if you then only have 20 hours of potentially productive time, whatever productivity multiplier you have on that time still holds for your general productivity. Also, it's generally possible to drop out of meetings that are a lost cause and increase the productivity of meetings that aren't a lost cause.</p>
<p>More generally, when people say that optimizing X doesn't help because they don't spend time on X and are not bottlenecked on X, that doesn't match my experience as I find I spend plenty of time bottlenecked on X for commonly dismissed Xs. I think that part of this is because getting faster at X can actually increase time spent on X due to a sort of virtuous cycle feedback loop of where it makes sense to spend time. Another part of this is illustrated in this comment by Fabian Giesen:</p>
<blockquote> <p>It is commonly accepted, verging on a cliche, that you have no idea where your program spends time until you actually profile it, but the corollary that you also don't know where <em>you</em> spend your time until you've measured it is not nearly as accepted.</p> </blockquote>
<p>When I've looked how people spend time vs. how people think they spend time, it's wildly inaccurate and I think there's a fundamental reason that, unless they measure, people's estimates of how they spend their time tends to be way off, which is nicely summed in by another Fabian Giesen quote, which happens to be about solving rubik's cubes but applies to other cognitive tasks:</p>
<blockquote> <p>Paraphrasing a well-known cuber, "your own pauses never seem bad while you're solving, because your brain is busy and you know what you're thinking about, but once you have a video it tends to become blindingly obvious what you need to improve". Which is pretty much the usual "don't assume, profile" advice for programs, but applied to a situation where you're concentrated and busy for the entire time, whereas the default assumption in programming circles seems to be that as long as you're actually doing work and not distracted or slacking off, you can't possibly be losing a lot of time</p> </blockquote>
<p>Unlike most people who discuss this topic online, I've actually looked at where my time goes and a lot of it goes to things that are canonical examples of things that you shouldn't waste time improving because people don't spend much time doing them.</p>
<p>An example of one of these, the most commonly cited bad-thing-to-optmize example that I've seen, is typing speed (when discussing this, people usually say that typing speed doesn't matter because more time is spent thinking than typing). But, when I look at where my time goes, a lot of it is spent typing.</p>
<p>A specific example is that I've written a number of influential docs at my current job and when people ask how long some doc took to write, they're generally surprised that the doc only took a day to write. As with the machine health example, a thing that velocity helps with is figuring out which docs will be influential. If I look at the docs I've written, I'd say that maybe 15% were really high impact (caused a new team to be created, changed the direction of existing teams, resulted in significant changes to the company's bottom line, etc.). Part of it is that I don't always know which ideas will resonate with other people, but part of it is also that I often propose ideas that are long shots because the ideas sound too stupid to be taken seriously (e.g., one of my proposed solutions to a capacity crunch was to, for each rack, turn off 10% of it, thereby increasing effective provisioned capacity, which is about as stupid sounding an idea as one could come up with). If I was much slower at writing docs, it wouldn't make sense to propose real long shot ideas. As things are today, if I think an idea has a 5% chance of success, in expectation, I need to spend ~20 days writing docs to have one of those land.</p>
<p>I spend roughly half my writing time typing. If I typed at what some people say median typing speed is (40 WPM) instead of the rate some random typing test clocked me at (110 WPM), this would be a 0.5 + 0.5 * 110/40 = 1.875x slowdown, putting me at nearly 40 days of writing before a longshot doc lands, which would make that a sketchier proposition. If I hadn't optimized the non-typing part of my writing workflow as well, I think I would be, on net, maybe 10x slower, which would put me at more like ~200 days per high impact longshot doc, which is enough that I think that I probably wouldn't write longshot docs.</p>
<p>More generally, Fabian Giesen has noted that this kind of non-linear impact of velocity is common:</p>
<blockquote> <p>There are "phase changes" as you cross certain thresholds (details depend on the problem to some extent) where your entire way of working changes. ... ​​There's a lot of things I could in theory do at any speed but in practice cannot, because as iteration time increases it first becomes so frustrating that I can't do it for long and eventually it takes so long that it literally drops out of my short-term memory, so I need to keep notes or otherwise organize it or I can't do it at all.</p>
<p>Certainly if I can do an experiment in an interactive UI by dragging on a slider and see the result in a fraction of a second, at that point it's very "no filter", if you want to try something you just do it.</p>
<p>Once you're at iteration times in the low seconds (say a compile-link cycle with a statically compiled lang) you don't just try stuff anymore, you also spend time thinking about whether it's gonna tell you anything because it takes long enough that you'd rather not waste a run.</p>
<p>Once you get into several-minute or multi-hour iteration times there's a lot of planning to not waste runs, and context switching because you do other stuff while you wait, and note-taking/bookkeeping; also at this level mistakes are both more expensive (because a wasted run wastes more time) and more common (because your attention is so divided).</p>
<p>As you scale that up even more you might now take significant resources for a noticeable amount of time and need to get that approved and budgeted, which takes its own meetings etc.</p> </blockquote>
<p>A specific example of something moving from one class of item to another in my work was <a href="/metrics-analytics/">this project on metrics analytics</a>. There were a number of proposals on how to solve this problem. There was broad agreement that the problem was important with no dissenters, but the proposals were all the kinds of things you'd allocate a team to work on through multiple roadmap cycles. Getting a project that expensive off the ground requires a large amount of organizational buy-in, enough that many important problems don't get solved, including this one. But it turned out, if scoped properly and executed reasonably, the project was actually something a programmer could create an MVP of in a day, which takes no organizational buy-in to get off the ground. Instead of needing to get multiple directors and a VP to agree that the problem is among the org's most important problems, you just need a person who thinks the problem is worth solving.</p>
<p>Going back to Xs where people say velocity doesn't matter because they don't spend a lot time on X, another one I see frequently is coding, and it is also not my personal experience that coding speed doesn't matter. For the machine health example discussed above, after I figured out something that would work, I spent one month working on basically nothing but that, coding, testing, and debugging. I think I had about 6 hours of meetings during that month, but other than that plus time spent eating, etc., I would go in to work, code all day, and then go home. I think it's much more difficult to compare coding speed across people because it's rare to see people do the same or very similar non-trivial tasks, so I won't try to compare to anyone else, but if I look at my productivity before I worked on improving it as compared to where I'm at now, the project probably would have been infeasible without the speedups I've found by looking at my velocity.</p>
<p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amdahl%27s_law">Amdahl's law</a> based arguments can make sense when looking for speedups in a fixed benchmark, like a sub-task of SPECint, but when you have a system where getting better at a task increases returns to doing that task and can increase time spent on the task, it doesn't make sense to say that you shouldn't work on something because you spend a lot of time doing it. I spend time on things that are high ROI, but those things are generally only high ROI because I've spent time improving my velocity, which reduces the "I" in ROI.</p>
<p>The last major argument I see against working on velocity assigns negative moral weight to the idea of thinking about productivity and working on velocity at all. This kind of comment often assigns positive moral weight to various kinds of leisure, such as spending time with friends and family. I find this argument to be backwards. If someone thinks it's important to spend time with friends and family, an easy way to do that is to be more productive at work and spend less time working.</p>
<p>Personally, I deliberately avoid working long hours and I suspect I don't work more than the median person at my company, which is a company where I think work-life balance is pretty good overall. A lot of my productivity gains have gone to leisure and not work. Furthermore, deliberately working on velocity has <a href="https://twitter.com/danluu/status/1444034823329177602">allowed me to get promoted relatively quickly</a>, which means that I make more money than I would've made if I didn't get promoted, which gives me more freedom to spend time on things that I value.</p>
<p>For people that aren't arguing that you shouldn't think about productivity because it's better to focus on leisure and instead argue that you simply shouldn't think about productivity at all because it's unnatural and one should live a natural life, that ultimately comes down to personal preference, but for me, I value the things I do outside of work too much to not explicitly work on productivity at work.</p>
<p>As with <a href="/why-benchmark/">this post on reasons to measure</a>, while this post is about practical reasons to improve productivity, the main reason I'm personally motivated to work on my own productivity isn't practical. The main reason is that I enjoy the process of getting better at things, whether that's some nerdy board game, a sport I have zero talent at that will never have any practical value to me, or work. For me, a secondary reason is that, given that my lifespan is finite, I want to allocate my time to things that I value, and increasing productivity allows me to do more of that, but that's not a thought i had until I was about 20, at which point I'd already been trying to improve at most things I spent significant time on for many years.</p>
<p>Another common reason for working on productivity is that mastery and/or generally being good at something seems satisfying for a lot of people. That's not one that resonates with me personally, but when I've asked other people about why they work on improving their skills, that seems to be a common motivation.</p>
<p>A related idea, one that Holden Karnofsky has been talking about for a while, is that if you ever want to make a difference in the world in some way, it's useful to work on your skills even in jobs where it's not obvious that being better at the job is useful, because the developed skills will give you more leverage on the world when you switch to something that's more aligned with you want to achieve.</p>
<h3 id="appendix-one-way-to-think-about-what-to-improve">Appendix: one way to think about what to improve</h3>
<p>Here's a framing I like from Gary Bernhardt (not set off in a quote block since this entire section, other than this sentence, is his).</p>
<p>People tend to fixate on a single granularity of analysis when talking about efficiency. E.g., "thinking is the most important part so don't worry about typing speed". If we step back, the response to that is "efficiency exists at every point on the continuum from year-by-year strategy all the way down to millisecond-by-millisecond keystrokes". I think it's safe to assume that gains at the larger scale will have the biggest impact. But as we go to finer granularity, it's not obvious where the ROI drops off. Some examples, moving from coarse to fine:</p>
<ol> <li>The macro point that you started with is: programming isn't just thinking; it's thinking plus tactical activities like editing code. Editing faster means more time for thinking.</li> <li>But editing code costs more than just the time spent typing! Programming is highly dependent on short-term memory. Every pause to edit is a distraction where you can forget the details that you're juggling. Slower editing effectively weakens your short-term memory, which reduces effectiveness.</li> <li>But editing code isn't just hitting keys! It's hitting keys plus the editor commands that those keys invoke. A more efficient editor can dramatically increase effective code editing speed, even if you type at the same WPM as before.</li> <li>But each editor command doesn't exist in a vacuum! There are often many ways to make the same edit. A Vim beginner might type "hhhhxxxxxxxx" when "bdw" is more efficient. An advanced Vim user might use "bdw", not realizing that it's slower than "diw" despite having the same number of keystrokes. (In QWERTY keyboard layout, the former is all on the left hand, whereas the latter alternates left-right-left hands. At 140 WPM, you're typing around 14 keystrokes per second, so each finger only has 70 ms to get into position and press the key. Alternating hands leaves more time for the next finger to get into position while the previous finger is mid-keypress.)</li> </ol>
<p>We have to choose how deep to go when thinking about this. I think that there's clear ROI in thinking about 1-3, and in letting those inform both tool choice and practice. I don't think that (4) is worth a lot of thought. It seems like we naturally find "good enough" points there. But that also makes it a nice fence post to frame the others.</p>
<h3 id="appendix-more-examples">Appendix: more examples</h3>
<ul> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10529064">In the comments on a post where Ben Kuhn notes that he got 50% more productive by allocating his time better, people are nearly uniformly negative about the post and say that he works too much</a>. Although Ben clarified in multiple comments as well as in the post that not all time tracked was worked, the commenters are too busy taking the moral high ground to actually respond to the contents of the post</li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28879240">Comments on Jamie Brandon's "Speed Matters"</a> </li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22255996">The #3 comment on a post by Michael Malis on "How to Improve Your Productivity as a Working Programmer "</a>: "Fuck it, the entire work environment seems designed to decrease productivity . . . Why should I bother . . ." <ul> <li>#4 comment: "What if I don't want to improve my productivity ? Just take time." <ul> <li>After the initial indignation, this comment goes on and proves that the commenter missed the point entirely, as the rest of the comment explains how the commenter works productively, which the commenter apparently is ok with as long as it's not phrased as a way to work productively, because one is supposed to be morally outraged by someone wanting to be productive and sharing techniques about how to be productive with other people who might be interested in being productive</li> <li>In the responses, someone points out that someone who's more productive would be able to spend more time on leisure; that comment is uniformly panned because "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion", as if how one spends time is some sort of immutable law of nature and not something under anyone's control</li> </ul></li> <li>Another comment: "Alright. What are we optimizing for? Productivity? Or the end-goals of any of: achieving more, climbing the corporate ladder, making more money, etc..?"</li> </ul></li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13752887">Comments on a post by antirez about productivity</a> </li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20737304">Comments on Alexy Guezy's thoughts on productivity</a> </li> </ul>
<p>etc.</p>
<p>Some positive examples of people who have used their productivity to "fund" things that they value include Andy Kelley (Zig), Jamie Brandon (various), Andy Matuschak (mnemonic medium, various), Saul Pwanson (VisiData), Andy Chu (Oil Shell). I'm drawing from programming examples, but you can find plenty of others, e.g., Nick Adnitt (<a href="https://darksidecanoes.wordpress.com/">Darkside Canoes</a>) and, of course, numerous people who've retired to pursue interests that aren't work-like at all.</p>
<h3 id="appendix-another-reason-to-avoid-being-productive">Appendix: another reason to avoid being productive</h3>
<p>An idea that's become increasingly popular in my extended social circles at major tech companies is that one should avoid doing work and <a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/antiwork/comments/pvjc6f/they_dont_give_a_fuck_about_you/">waste as much time as possible</a>, often called "antiwork", which seems like a natural extension of "tryhard" becoming an insult. The reason given is often something like, work mainly enriches upper management at your employer and/or shareholders, who are generally richer than you.</p>
<p>I'm sympathetic to the argument and <a href="https://twitter.com/danluu/status/802971209176477696">agree that upper management and shareholders capture most of the value from work</a>. But as much as I sympathize with the idea of deliberately being unproductive to "stick it to the man", I value spending my time on things that I want enough that I'd rather get my work done quickly so I can do things I enjoy more than work. Additionally, having been productive in the past has given me good options for jobs, so I have work that I enjoy a lot more than my acquaintances in tech who have embraced the "antiwork" movement.</p>
<p>The less control you have over your environment, the more it makes sense to embrace "antiwork". Programmers at major tech companies have, relatively speaking, a lot of control over their environment, which is why I'm not "antiwork" even though I'm sympathetic to the cause.</p>
<p>Although it's about a different topic, a related comment <a href="https://twitter.com/PracheeAC/status/1448789430488092672">from Prachee Avasthi about avoiding controversial work and avoiding pushing for necessary changes when pre-tenure ingrains habits that are hard break post-tenure</a>. If one wants to be "antiwork" forever, that's not a problem, but if one wants to move the needle on something at some point, building "antiwork" habits while working for a major tech company will instill counterproductive habits.</p>
<p><small> Thanks to Fabian Giesen, Gary Bernhardt, Ben Kuhn, David Turner, Marek Majkowski, Anja Boskovic, Aaron Levin, Lifan Zeng, Justin Blank, Heath Borders, Tao L., Nehal Patel, and Jamie Brandon for comments/corrections/discussion</small></p>
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title: Some reasons to work on productivity and velocity
url: https://danluu.com/productivity-velocity/
hash_url: 50e183c99474ec15a833b2375aea1faf

<p>A common topic of discussion among my close friends is where the bottlenecks are in our productivity and how we can execute more quickly. This is very different from what I see in my extended social circles, where people commonly say that <a href="https://twitter.com/danluu/status/1440106603093495810">velocity doesn't matter</a>. In online discussions about this, I frequently see people go a step further and assign moral valence to this, saying that it is actually bad to try to increase velocity or be more productive or work hard (see appendix for more examples).</p>
<p>The top reasons I see people say that productivity doesn't matter (or is actually bad) fall into one of three buckets:</p> <ul> <li>Working on the right thing is more important than working quickly</li> <li>Speed at X doesn't matter because you don't spend much time doing X</li> <li>Thinking about productivity is bad and you should "live life"</li> </ul> <p>I certainly agree that working on the right thing is important, but increasing velocity doesn't stop you from working on the right thing. If anything, each of these is a force multiplier for the other. Having strong execution skills becomes more impactful if you're good at picking the right problem and vice versa.</p>
<p>It's true that the gains from picking the right problem can be greater than the gains from having better tactical execution because the gains from picking the right problem can be unbounded, but it's also much easier to improve tactical execution and doing so also helps with picking the right problem because having faster execution lets you experiment more quickly, which helps you find the right problem.</p>
<p>A concrete example of this is a project I worked on to quantify the machine health of the fleet. The project discovered a number of serious issues (a decent fraction of hosts were actively corrupting data or had a performance problem that would increase tail latency by &gt; 2 orders of magnitude, or both). This was considered serious enough that a new team was created to deal with the problem.</p>
<p>In retrospect, my first attempts at quantifying the problem were doomed and couldn't have really worked (or not in a reasonable amount of time, anyway). I spent a few weeks cranking through ideas that couldn't work and a critical part of getting to the idea that did work after "only" a few weeks was being able to quickly try out and discard ideas that didn't work. In part of a previous post, I described how long a tiny part of that process took and multiple people objected to that being impossibly fast in internet comments.</p>
<p>I find this a bit funny since I'm not a naturally quick programmer. <a href="/learning-to-program/">Learning to program was a real struggle for me</a> and I was pretty slow at it for a long time (and I still am in aspects that I haven't practiced). My "one weird trick" is that I've explicitly worked on speeding up things that I do frequently and most people have not. I view the situation as somewhat analogous to sports before people really trained. For a long time, many athletes didn't seriously train, and then once people started trying to train, the training was often misguided by modern standards. For example, if you read commentary on baseball from the 70s, you'll see people saying that baseball players shouldn't weight train because it will make them "muscle bound" (many people thought that weight lifting would lead to "too much" bulk, causing people to be slower, have less explosive power, and be less agile). But today, players get a huge advantage from using performance-enhancing drugs that increase their muscle-bound-ness, which implies that players could not get too "muscle bound" from weight training alone. An analogous comment to one discussed above would be saying that athletes shouldn't worry about power/strength and should increase their skill, but power increases returns to skill and vice versa.</p>
<p>Coming back to programming, if you explicitly practice and train and almost no one else does, you'll be able to do things relatively quickly compared to most people even if, like me, you don't have much talent for programming and getting started at all was a real struggle. Of course, there's always going to be someone more talented out there who's executing faster after having spent less time improving. But, luckily for me, <a href="/p95-skill/">relatively few people seriously attempt to improve</a>, so I'm able to do ok.</p>
<p>Anyway, despite operating at a rate that some internet commenters thought was impossible, it took me weeks of dead ends to find something that worked. If I was doing things at a speed that people thought was normal, I suspect it would've taken long enough to find a feasible solution that I would've dropped the problem after spending maybe one or two quarters on it. The number of plausible-ish seeming dead ends was probably not unrelated to why the problem was still an open problem despite being a critical issue for years. Of course, someone who's better at having ideas than me could've solved the problem without the dead ends, but as we discussed earlier, it's fairly easy to find low hanging fruit on "execution speed" and not so easy to find low hanging fruit on "having better ideas". However, it's possible to, to a limited extent, simulate someone who has better ideas than me by being able to quickly try out and discard ideas (I also work on having better ideas, but I think it makes sense to go after the easier high ROI wins that are available as well). Being able to try out ideas quickly also improves the rate at which I can improve at having better ideas since a key part of that is building intuition by getting feedback on what works.</p>
<p>The next major objection is that speed at a particular task doesn't matter because time spent on that task is limited. At a high level, I don't agree with this objection because, while this may hold true for any particular kind of task, the solution to that is to try to improve each kind of task and not to reject the idea of improvement outright. A sub-objection people have is something like "but I spend 20 hours in unproductive meetings every week, so it doesn't matter what I do with my other time". I think this is doubly wrong, in that if you then only have 20 hours of potentially productive time, whatever productivity multiplier you have on that time still holds for your general productivity. Also, it's generally possible to drop out of meetings that are a lost cause and increase the productivity of meetings that aren't a lost cause.</p>
<p>More generally, when people say that optimizing X doesn't help because they don't spend time on X and are not bottlenecked on X, that doesn't match my experience as I find I spend plenty of time bottlenecked on X for commonly dismissed Xs. I think that part of this is because getting faster at X can actually increase time spent on X due to a sort of virtuous cycle feedback loop of where it makes sense to spend time. Another part of this is illustrated in this comment by Fabian Giesen:</p> <blockquote> <p>It is commonly accepted, verging on a cliche, that you have no idea where your program spends time until you actually profile it, but the corollary that you also don't know where <em>you</em> spend your time until you've measured it is not nearly as accepted.</p> </blockquote> <p>When I've looked how people spend time vs. how people think they spend time, it's wildly inaccurate and I think there's a fundamental reason that, unless they measure, people's estimates of how they spend their time tends to be way off, which is nicely summed in by another Fabian Giesen quote, which happens to be about solving rubik's cubes but applies to other cognitive tasks:</p> <blockquote> <p>Paraphrasing a well-known cuber, "your own pauses never seem bad while you're solving, because your brain is busy and you know what you're thinking about, but once you have a video it tends to become blindingly obvious what you need to improve". Which is pretty much the usual "don't assume, profile" advice for programs, but applied to a situation where you're concentrated and busy for the entire time, whereas the default assumption in programming circles seems to be that as long as you're actually doing work and not distracted or slacking off, you can't possibly be losing a lot of time</p> </blockquote> <p>Unlike most people who discuss this topic online, I've actually looked at where my time goes and a lot of it goes to things that are canonical examples of things that you shouldn't waste time improving because people don't spend much time doing them.</p>
<p>An example of one of these, the most commonly cited bad-thing-to-optmize example that I've seen, is typing speed (when discussing this, people usually say that typing speed doesn't matter because more time is spent thinking than typing). But, when I look at where my time goes, a lot of it is spent typing.</p>
<p>A specific example is that I've written a number of influential docs at my current job and when people ask how long some doc took to write, they're generally surprised that the doc only took a day to write. As with the machine health example, a thing that velocity helps with is figuring out which docs will be influential. If I look at the docs I've written, I'd say that maybe 15% were really high impact (caused a new team to be created, changed the direction of existing teams, resulted in significant changes to the company's bottom line, etc.). Part of it is that I don't always know which ideas will resonate with other people, but part of it is also that I often propose ideas that are long shots because the ideas sound too stupid to be taken seriously (e.g., one of my proposed solutions to a capacity crunch was to, for each rack, turn off 10% of it, thereby increasing effective provisioned capacity, which is about as stupid sounding an idea as one could come up with). If I was much slower at writing docs, it wouldn't make sense to propose real long shot ideas. As things are today, if I think an idea has a 5% chance of success, in expectation, I need to spend ~20 days writing docs to have one of those land.</p>
<p>I spend roughly half my writing time typing. If I typed at what some people say median typing speed is (40 WPM) instead of the rate some random typing test clocked me at (110 WPM), this would be a 0.5 + 0.5 * 110/40 = 1.875x slowdown, putting me at nearly 40 days of writing before a longshot doc lands, which would make that a sketchier proposition. If I hadn't optimized the non-typing part of my writing workflow as well, I think I would be, on net, maybe 10x slower, which would put me at more like ~200 days per high impact longshot doc, which is enough that I think that I probably wouldn't write longshot docs.</p>
<p>More generally, Fabian Giesen has noted that this kind of non-linear impact of velocity is common:</p> <blockquote> <p>There are "phase changes" as you cross certain thresholds (details depend on the problem to some extent) where your entire way of working changes. ... ​​There's a lot of things I could in theory do at any speed but in practice cannot, because as iteration time increases it first becomes so frustrating that I can't do it for long and eventually it takes so long that it literally drops out of my short-term memory, so I need to keep notes or otherwise organize it or I can't do it at all.</p>
<p>Certainly if I can do an experiment in an interactive UI by dragging on a slider and see the result in a fraction of a second, at that point it's very "no filter", if you want to try something you just do it.</p>
<p>Once you're at iteration times in the low seconds (say a compile-link cycle with a statically compiled lang) you don't just try stuff anymore, you also spend time thinking about whether it's gonna tell you anything because it takes long enough that you'd rather not waste a run.</p>
<p>Once you get into several-minute or multi-hour iteration times there's a lot of planning to not waste runs, and context switching because you do other stuff while you wait, and note-taking/bookkeeping; also at this level mistakes are both more expensive (because a wasted run wastes more time) and more common (because your attention is so divided).</p>
<p>As you scale that up even more you might now take significant resources for a noticeable amount of time and need to get that approved and budgeted, which takes its own meetings etc.</p> </blockquote> <p>A specific example of something moving from one class of item to another in my work was <a href="/metrics-analytics/">this project on metrics analytics</a>. There were a number of proposals on how to solve this problem. There was broad agreement that the problem was important with no dissenters, but the proposals were all the kinds of things you'd allocate a team to work on through multiple roadmap cycles. Getting a project that expensive off the ground requires a large amount of organizational buy-in, enough that many important problems don't get solved, including this one. But it turned out, if scoped properly and executed reasonably, the project was actually something a programmer could create an MVP of in a day, which takes no organizational buy-in to get off the ground. Instead of needing to get multiple directors and a VP to agree that the problem is among the org's most important problems, you just need a person who thinks the problem is worth solving.</p>
<p>Going back to Xs where people say velocity doesn't matter because they don't spend a lot time on X, another one I see frequently is coding, and it is also not my personal experience that coding speed doesn't matter. For the machine health example discussed above, after I figured out something that would work, I spent one month working on basically nothing but that, coding, testing, and debugging. I think I had about 6 hours of meetings during that month, but other than that plus time spent eating, etc., I would go in to work, code all day, and then go home. I think it's much more difficult to compare coding speed across people because it's rare to see people do the same or very similar non-trivial tasks, so I won't try to compare to anyone else, but if I look at my productivity before I worked on improving it as compared to where I'm at now, the project probably would have been infeasible without the speedups I've found by looking at my velocity.</p>
<p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amdahl%27s_law">Amdahl's law</a> based arguments can make sense when looking for speedups in a fixed benchmark, like a sub-task of SPECint, but when you have a system where getting better at a task increases returns to doing that task and can increase time spent on the task, it doesn't make sense to say that you shouldn't work on something because you spend a lot of time doing it. I spend time on things that are high ROI, but those things are generally only high ROI because I've spent time improving my velocity, which reduces the "I" in ROI.</p>
<p>The last major argument I see against working on velocity assigns negative moral weight to the idea of thinking about productivity and working on velocity at all. This kind of comment often assigns positive moral weight to various kinds of leisure, such as spending time with friends and family. I find this argument to be backwards. If someone thinks it's important to spend time with friends and family, an easy way to do that is to be more productive at work and spend less time working.</p>
<p>Personally, I deliberately avoid working long hours and I suspect I don't work more than the median person at my company, which is a company where I think work-life balance is pretty good overall. A lot of my productivity gains have gone to leisure and not work. Furthermore, deliberately working on velocity has <a href="https://twitter.com/danluu/status/1444034823329177602">allowed me to get promoted relatively quickly</a>, which means that I make more money than I would've made if I didn't get promoted, which gives me more freedom to spend time on things that I value.</p>
<p>For people that aren't arguing that you shouldn't think about productivity because it's better to focus on leisure and instead argue that you simply shouldn't think about productivity at all because it's unnatural and one should live a natural life, that ultimately comes down to personal preference, but for me, I value the things I do outside of work too much to not explicitly work on productivity at work.</p>
<p>As with <a href="/why-benchmark/">this post on reasons to measure</a>, while this post is about practical reasons to improve productivity, the main reason I'm personally motivated to work on my own productivity isn't practical. The main reason is that I enjoy the process of getting better at things, whether that's some nerdy board game, a sport I have zero talent at that will never have any practical value to me, or work. For me, a secondary reason is that, given that my lifespan is finite, I want to allocate my time to things that I value, and increasing productivity allows me to do more of that, but that's not a thought i had until I was about 20, at which point I'd already been trying to improve at most things I spent significant time on for many years.</p>
<p>Another common reason for working on productivity is that mastery and/or generally being good at something seems satisfying for a lot of people. That's not one that resonates with me personally, but when I've asked other people about why they work on improving their skills, that seems to be a common motivation.</p>
<p>A related idea, one that Holden Karnofsky has been talking about for a while, is that if you ever want to make a difference in the world in some way, it's useful to work on your skills even in jobs where it's not obvious that being better at the job is useful, because the developed skills will give you more leverage on the world when you switch to something that's more aligned with you want to achieve.</p> <h3 id="appendix-one-way-to-think-about-what-to-improve">Appendix: one way to think about what to improve</h3> <p>Here's a framing I like from Gary Bernhardt (not set off in a quote block since this entire section, other than this sentence, is his).</p>
<p>People tend to fixate on a single granularity of analysis when talking about efficiency. E.g., "thinking is the most important part so don't worry about typing speed". If we step back, the response to that is "efficiency exists at every point on the continuum from year-by-year strategy all the way down to millisecond-by-millisecond keystrokes". I think it's safe to assume that gains at the larger scale will have the biggest impact. But as we go to finer granularity, it's not obvious where the ROI drops off. Some examples, moving from coarse to fine:</p> <ol> <li>The macro point that you started with is: programming isn't just thinking; it's thinking plus tactical activities like editing code. Editing faster means more time for thinking.</li> <li>But editing code costs more than just the time spent typing! Programming is highly dependent on short-term memory. Every pause to edit is a distraction where you can forget the details that you're juggling. Slower editing effectively weakens your short-term memory, which reduces effectiveness.</li> <li>But editing code isn't just hitting keys! It's hitting keys plus the editor commands that those keys invoke. A more efficient editor can dramatically increase effective code editing speed, even if you type at the same WPM as before.</li> <li>But each editor command doesn't exist in a vacuum! There are often many ways to make the same edit. A Vim beginner might type "hhhhxxxxxxxx" when "bdw" is more efficient. An advanced Vim user might use "bdw", not realizing that it's slower than "diw" despite having the same number of keystrokes. (In QWERTY keyboard layout, the former is all on the left hand, whereas the latter alternates left-right-left hands. At 140 WPM, you're typing around 14 keystrokes per second, so each finger only has 70 ms to get into position and press the key. Alternating hands leaves more time for the next finger to get into position while the previous finger is mid-keypress.)</li> </ol> <p>We have to choose how deep to go when thinking about this. I think that there's clear ROI in thinking about 1-3, and in letting those inform both tool choice and practice. I don't think that (4) is worth a lot of thought. It seems like we naturally find "good enough" points there. But that also makes it a nice fence post to frame the others.</p> <h3 id="appendix-more-examples">Appendix: more examples</h3> <ul> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10529064">In the comments on a post where Ben Kuhn notes that he got 50% more productive by allocating his time better, people are nearly uniformly negative about the post and say that he works too much</a>. Although Ben clarified in multiple comments as well as in the post that not all time tracked was worked, the commenters are too busy taking the moral high ground to actually respond to the contents of the post</li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28879240">Comments on Jamie Brandon's "Speed Matters"</a> </li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22255996">The #3 comment on a post by Michael Malis on "How to Improve Your Productivity as a Working Programmer "</a>: "Fuck it, the entire work environment seems designed to decrease productivity . . . Why should I bother . . ." <ul> <li>#4 comment: "What if I don't want to improve my productivity ? Just take time." <ul> <li>After the initial indignation, this comment goes on and proves that the commenter missed the point entirely, as the rest of the comment explains how the commenter works productively, which the commenter apparently is ok with as long as it's not phrased as a way to work productively, because one is supposed to be morally outraged by someone wanting to be productive and sharing techniques about how to be productive with other people who might be interested in being productive</li> <li>In the responses, someone points out that someone who's more productive would be able to spend more time on leisure; that comment is uniformly panned because "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion", as if how one spends time is some sort of immutable law of nature and not something under anyone's control</li> </ul></li> <li>Another comment: "Alright. What are we optimizing for? Productivity? Or the end-goals of any of: achieving more, climbing the corporate ladder, making more money, etc..?"</li> </ul></li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13752887">Comments on a post by antirez about productivity</a> </li> <li><a href="https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20737304">Comments on Alexy Guezy's thoughts on productivity</a> </li> </ul> <p>etc.</p>
<p>Some positive examples of people who have used their productivity to "fund" things that they value include Andy Kelley (Zig), Jamie Brandon (various), Andy Matuschak (mnemonic medium, various), Saul Pwanson (VisiData), Andy Chu (Oil Shell). I'm drawing from programming examples, but you can find plenty of others, e.g., Nick Adnitt (<a href="https://darksidecanoes.wordpress.com/">Darkside Canoes</a>) and, of course, numerous people who've retired to pursue interests that aren't work-like at all.</p> <h3 id="appendix-another-reason-to-avoid-being-productive">Appendix: another reason to avoid being productive</h3> <p>An idea that's become increasingly popular in my extended social circles at major tech companies is that one should avoid doing work and <a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/antiwork/comments/pvjc6f/they_dont_give_a_fuck_about_you/">waste as much time as possible</a>, often called "antiwork", which seems like a natural extension of "tryhard" becoming an insult. The reason given is often something like, work mainly enriches upper management at your employer and/or shareholders, who are generally richer than you.</p>
<p>I'm sympathetic to the argument and <a href="https://twitter.com/danluu/status/802971209176477696">agree that upper management and shareholders capture most of the value from work</a>. But as much as I sympathize with the idea of deliberately being unproductive to "stick it to the man", I value spending my time on things that I want enough that I'd rather get my work done quickly so I can do things I enjoy more than work. Additionally, having been productive in the past has given me good options for jobs, so I have work that I enjoy a lot more than my acquaintances in tech who have embraced the "antiwork" movement.</p>
<p>The less control you have over your environment, the more it makes sense to embrace "antiwork". Programmers at major tech companies have, relatively speaking, a lot of control over their environment, which is why I'm not "antiwork" even though I'm sympathetic to the cause.</p>
<p>Although it's about a different topic, a related comment <a href="https://twitter.com/PracheeAC/status/1448789430488092672">from Prachee Avasthi about avoiding controversial work and avoiding pushing for necessary changes when pre-tenure ingrains habits that are hard break post-tenure</a>. If one wants to be "antiwork" forever, that's not a problem, but if one wants to move the needle on something at some point, building "antiwork" habits while working for a major tech company will instill counterproductive habits.</p>
<p><small> Thanks to Fabian Giesen, Gary Bernhardt, Ben Kuhn, David Turner, Marek Majkowski, Anja Boskovic, Aaron Levin, Lifan Zeng, Justin Blank, Heath Borders, Tao L., Nehal Patel, and Jamie Brandon for comments/corrections/discussion</small></p>

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<p>Il paraît que « le Covid » c’est fini. C’est ce que me disent beaucoup de gens. C’est ce qu’ils espèrent. Évidemment, c’est ce que j’espère moi aussi. Évidemment ! Chacun ne met certes pas forcément la même chose derrière les mots « le Covid ». Chacun voit midi à sa porte. Mais tout le monde espère. Tout le monde y pense. Les hommes, les anges, les vautours. Tout le monde espère.</p>
<p>J’ai été amené à regarder un peu la télévision ces derniers temps. J’ai surtout observé les publicités. Là c’est vraiment comme avant. C’est toujours aussi répugnant. Les mêmes bagnoles, les mêmes friandises, les mêmes pacotilles. Les mêmes images parfaites, les mêmes couleurs pures, le même vacarme abrutissant. C’est comme s’il ne s’était rien passé. On aperçoit parfois un rare masque, ou un discret bandeau « images filmées avant la mise en place des gestes barrières », et puis c’est tout. Circulez, y a rien à voir, faut consommer !</p>
<p>Je pense qu’on sous-estime gravement l’ampleur de ce qui s’est passé.</p>
<p>Peut-être que je me trompe. J’espère que je me trompe. Mais je pense qu’on sous-estime ce qui s’est passé.</p>
<p>Et, en fait, le simple fait de parler au passé de la pandémie de Covid-19 est une manière de sous-estimer ce qui se passe. Il serait plus exact de dire : On sous-estime gravement l’ampleur de ce qui se passe.</p>
<p>On a littéralement banalisé le mot « pandémie ». Et on a caché beaucoup d’autres choses derrière. Ce n’est pas qu’une crise sanitaire ; c’est une crise sociale, économique, écologique, anthropologique – c’est notamment comme l’a suggéré dès l’automne 2020 Barbara Stiegler, une « <a href="https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2021/02/03/de-la-democratie-en-pandemie-de-barbara-stiegler-quand-le-covid-19-change-les-regles-du-jeu_6068583_3232.html">syndémie</a> ». Mais qui ira élargir ainsi sa réflexion ? Au contraire, tout est fait pour inciter chacun à rétrécir son champ de vision, à minimiser, à sous-estimer.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les morts et les mutilés et les traumatisés.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les morts.</p>
<p>Au cours de sa première année, le Covid-19 a tué environ dix millions de personnes <a href="https://www.economist.com/briefing/2021/05/15/there-have-been-7m-13m-excess-deaths-worldwide-during-the-pandemic">selon les estimations les plus fiables</a>. La deuxième année sera probablement pire. Dans de nombreux pays « autoritaires » (Chine, Russie, etc), les autorités ont systématiquement truqué et minimisé les chiffres. La vérité va mettre du temps à émerger.</p>
<p>Dans certains pays structurellement racistes (le Brésil, certaines régions de l’Inde, certains États du Sud des États-Unis, etc), la pandémie a été gérée comme une aubaine, comme une opportunité de génocide partiel et à bas bruit. Cela donnera probablement des idées à d’autres. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1yp">La souffrance</a> est une matière première de choix pour les politiques néofascistes.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les mutilés.</p>
<p>Je persiste à appeler « mutilés » celles et ceux qu’on appelle pudiquement les « Covid-longs ». Les gens qui ont été infectés, qui ont plus ou moins difficilement guéri, mais qui garderont des séquelles toute leur vie. Des séquelles respiratoires, des séquelles neurologiques, et d’autres. Toute leur vie.</p>
<p>Une des rares études que j’ai aperçue sur le sujet des « Covid-longs » évoquait, pour le seul Royaume-Uni, plusieurs centaines de milliers de personnes. C’est juste un ordre de grandeur. Est-ce qu’il existe la moindre étude sur les mutilés du Covid-19 en France ? Est-on prêt à accompagner des centaines de milliers de gens bousillés par le Covid-19 ? On ne se pose semble-t-il même pas la question. Le gouvernement français a choisi, pendant cette pandémie, de continuer <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1Cd">sa politique à long-terme</a> de diminution des capacités hospitalières… que fera-t-il après ?</p>
<p>On sous-estime les traumatisés.</p>
<p>J’appelle « traumatisés » les gens rendus fous ou à moitié fous par l’<a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1zz">absurdistan autoritaire</a>, les décisions aberrantes, les gesticulations médiatiques, le vernis scientifique qui a décrédibilisé l’idée même de science, les manipulations, les <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1xF">Ausweis</a>, le nudge, les passes et le reste. Les cinquante nuances d’enfermement, et les cinquante mille nuances de mépris, encaissés depuis mars 2020 les ont déglingués. Lessivés. Perdus.</p>
<p>Des gens vont mettre des mois et des années à reprendre des habitudes de vie sociale. Certains n’y arriveront pas. Certains ne la reprendront jamais. Le télétravail à perpétuité fascine. Le « présentiel » a été marginalisé, ringardisé. Certains veulent juste ne plus sortir de chez eux, parce qu’ils ont désappris à fréquenter d’autres individus. D’autres, parmi les plus jeunes, ont arrêté d’apprendre à vivre un peu en dehors de leur chambre. D’autres qui n’apprennent plus. D’autres ont désappris. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1t6">Tant et tant sont perdus</a>, tout simplement, perdus, dans tous les sens du temps.</p>
<p>Des gens ont pris l’habitude de considérer les autres comme des menaces, les contacts humains comme des risques biologiques. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-pI">La préférence pour les machines</a>, déjà bien engagée ces dernières décennies, a fait un grand bond en avant.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les dégâts psychologiques, sociologiques, anthropologiques.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les conséquences des mensonges, des trahisons et des manipulations. La France est un bon exemple, pour les conséquences des mensonges. Comme l’ont relevé de nombreux observateurs, <a href="https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/emmanuel-todd-depuis-le-covid-nous-savons-que-le-mensonge-d-etat-regne-en-france_2131227.html">le seul talent des « élites dirigeantes » de ce pays, c’est le mensonge</a>. La manipulation. La perfidie. Le fameux nudge n’est que la cerise sur le gâteau. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1wX">Prendre les gens pour des cons</a>, ils adorent que ça, et en fait ils ne savent faire que ça. On sous-estime à quel point cette pandémie a été une aubaine pour le déchaînement du néolibéralisme (alias, le libéralisme autoritaire) en France. Les conséquences sont et seront tragiques.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les conséquences en particulier de la monstruosité appelée « passe sanitaire ». Ce machin a fracturé le pays avec une efficacité sidérante. En quelques semaines à peine, ce machin a créé de toutes pièces une nouvelle minorité, et fabriqué un nouveau troupeau de boucs-émissaires. Comme si la société française n’avait pas déjà assez de fractures ! Le rêve de Margaret Thatcher : There is no such thing as society.</p>
<p>Les « élites dirigeantes », soucieuses de diviser pour régner, se contentaient jusqu’ici de surfer sur les fractures existantes, de jeter de l’essence sur les braises : ce machin leur a montré comment en créer de toutes pièces. Une fracture instantanée, ex-nihilo, assistée par ordinateur ! Ça leur ouvre de nouvelles perspectives vertigineuses. Ils recommenceront. Il y en aura d’autres, des QR codes « cools et pratiques à utiliser » dans les prochaines années. Et des boucs-émissaires, plein de boucs-émissaires. Ils vont adorer en inventer d’autres. McKinsey a surement déjà des slides toutes prêtes.</p>
<p>On sous-estime tellement toutes sortes de choses, parce que, plus que jamais, <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-sS">on ne sait plus ce qui est important</a>, on ne sait plus discerner ce qui est important, ni collectivement, ni même individuellement.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les mauvaises habitudes dont on ne saura pas se défaire, et les bonnes habitudes qu’on ne saura jamais reprendre. Prendre le temps de se voir, de se parler, de s’écouter, de s’apprécier. Croiser des gens. Retrouver des gens. Être parmi des gens. Ne pas avoir peur des gens. Vivre sans la peur. Vivre hors la peur. Vivre sans les écrans. Vivre hors des écrans. Perdre du temps hors des écrans. Se laisser aller hors des écrans. Se laisser aller. Ne pas se laisser enfermer. Ne pas se laisser ensevelir. Vivre. On ne sait plus faire. On sous-estime à quel point on ne sait plus faire. On ne sait même plus ce qui est important.</p>
<p><a href="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg"><img loading="lazy" data-attachment-id="6243" data-permalink="https://prototypekblog.wordpress.com/2021/10/28/on-sous-estime-ce-qui-sest-passe/avalanche/" data-orig-file="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg" data-orig-size="800,270" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta='{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}' data-image-title="Avalanche" data-image-description="" data-image-caption="" data-medium-file="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=300" data-large-file="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=640" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-6243" src="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=640&amp;h=216" alt="" srcset="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=640&amp;h=216 640w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=150&amp;h=51 150w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=300&amp;h=101 300w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=768&amp;h=259 768w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg 800w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px"></a>On sous-estime la suite.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les morts et les mutilés encore à venir parce qu’on se laisse bercer par l’idée qu’ils seront loin de chez nous.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les risques de nouveaux variants. Les pays « riches » ont choisi de laisser les pays « pauvres » se débrouiller tout seuls. Cyniquement, ouvertement, effectivement. The world is watching. On parle, au singulier et au passé, du « variant anglais », du « variant sud-africain », du « variant indien ». On ignore en général qu’il y a déjà eu des milliers de variants, recensés ici et là, du Brésil à l’Inde. Chaque jour peut émerger un nouveau variant, plus dangereux et plus infectieux. Mais on laisse les bouillons de culture bouillonner. On ne lèvera pas les brevets sur les vaccins. On ne mobilisera pas les capacités industrielles nécessaires à l’échelle de l’humanité. On n’agira pas à l’échelle de l’humanité, qui est pourtant la seule échelle pertinente. Les dividendes seront préservés. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-11k">Les bonus seront payés</a>.</p>
<p>On s’était fait, à l’usure, à l’idée monstrueuse que le Covid-19 était une maladie juste pour les vieux et les faibles. On se fait à l’idée, non moins monstrueuse, que ce ne sera bientôt plus qu’une maladie de pays pauvres. Vae victis. Le « lâche soulagement » dont parlait Édouard Daladier après les accords de Munich… On est sauvés et tant pis pour le reste du monde. Préparez Noël. Consommez. Oubliez.</p>
<p>On oublie que ce choc n’est pas fini.</p>
<p>On ne veut pas voir qu’il y en aura d’autres. Il y aura d’autres chocs épidémiques, et plus largement des chocs biologiques et écologiques. C’est <a href="https://blog.mondediplo.net/problemes-de-la-transition">l’un des verdicts les plus lucides de Frédéric Lordon</a> :</p>
<blockquote><p>On ne pourra pas vouloir la fin du système qui nous promet le double désastre viral et environnemental, et la continuation de ses « bienfaits » matériels. C’est un lot : avec l’iPhone 15, la voiture Google et la 7G viendront inséparablement la caniculisation du monde et les pestes. Il faudra le dire, le répéter, jusqu’à ce que ces choses soient parfaitement claires dans la conscience commune.</p></blockquote>
<p>On sous-estime les chocs à venir. Tous largement prévisibles, au moins partiellement anticipables, mais on ne les prévoira pas, on ne les anticipera pas, et on fera taire celles et ceux qui le voudraient ou le pourraient. Au mieux, on les sous-estimera. On ne veut pas regarder plus loin que le bout de notre nez. Il faut rassurer les marchés. Il faut relancer la croissance. Il faut rembourser la dette. Il faut s’adapter. Y a qu’à être <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1Ay">résilients</a> !</p>
<p>On ne veut pas même voir que rien n’est fait pour anticiper les chocs à venir. Le pillage continue. Les priorités n’ont pas changé. En pleine pandémie, alors que l’argent magique de la BCE coulait à flots pour décupler les patrimoines financiers, la France continuait à diminuer ses capacités hospitalières — et, en fait, ses capacités humaines en général. La santé, l’école, les soins, le bien-être, l’espérance de vie en bonne santé et tutti quanti, restent des coûts à réduire ; et, pour les parties potentiellement rentables, de la chair à privatisation. Le capital a faim. On sous-estime à quel point le capital a faim.</p>
<p><a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1qc">On n’était pas prêts en mars 2020</a>.</p>
<p>On ne sera pas prêts au prochain choc.</p>
<p>Bienvenue au XXIème siècle ! Vous pouvez rallumer votre télévision ou votre Instagram. Cassandre ne passera pas.</p>
<p>Bonne nuit.</p>
</article>


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title: On sous-estime ce qui s’est passé
url: https://prototypekblog.wordpress.com/2021/10/28/on-sous-estime-ce-qui-sest-passe/
hash_url: b0518096cdfacc89f9d5792966e5a3b7

<p>Il paraît que « le Covid » c’est fini. C’est ce que me disent beaucoup de gens. C’est ce qu’ils espèrent. Évidemment, c’est ce que j’espère moi aussi. Évidemment ! Chacun ne met certes pas forcément la même chose derrière les mots « le Covid ». Chacun voit midi à sa porte. Mais tout le monde espère. Tout le monde y pense. Les hommes, les anges, les vautours. Tout le monde espère.</p>
<p>J’ai été amené à regarder un peu la télévision ces derniers temps. J’ai surtout observé les publicités. Là c’est vraiment comme avant. C’est toujours aussi répugnant. Les mêmes bagnoles, les mêmes friandises, les mêmes pacotilles. Les mêmes images parfaites, les mêmes couleurs pures, le même vacarme abrutissant. C’est comme s’il ne s’était rien passé. On aperçoit parfois un rare masque, ou un discret bandeau « images filmées avant la mise en place des gestes barrières », et puis c’est tout. Circulez, y a rien à voir, faut consommer !</p>
<p>Je pense qu’on sous-estime gravement l’ampleur de ce qui s’est passé.</p>
<p>Peut-être que je me trompe. J’espère que je me trompe. Mais je pense qu’on sous-estime ce qui s’est passé.</p>
<p>Et, en fait, le simple fait de parler au passé de la pandémie de Covid-19 est une manière de sous-estimer ce qui se passe. Il serait plus exact de dire : On sous-estime gravement l’ampleur de ce qui se passe.</p>
<p>On a littéralement banalisé le mot « pandémie ». Et on a caché beaucoup d’autres choses derrière. Ce n’est pas qu’une crise sanitaire ; c’est une crise sociale, économique, écologique, anthropologique – c’est notamment comme l’a suggéré dès l’automne 2020 Barbara Stiegler, une « <a href="https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2021/02/03/de-la-democratie-en-pandemie-de-barbara-stiegler-quand-le-covid-19-change-les-regles-du-jeu_6068583_3232.html">syndémie</a> ». Mais qui ira élargir ainsi sa réflexion ? Au contraire, tout est fait pour inciter chacun à rétrécir son champ de vision, à minimiser, à sous-estimer.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les morts et les mutilés et les traumatisés.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les morts.</p>
<p>Au cours de sa première année, le Covid-19 a tué environ dix millions de personnes <a href="https://www.economist.com/briefing/2021/05/15/there-have-been-7m-13m-excess-deaths-worldwide-during-the-pandemic">selon les estimations les plus fiables</a>. La deuxième année sera probablement pire. Dans de nombreux pays « autoritaires » (Chine, Russie, etc), les autorités ont systématiquement truqué et minimisé les chiffres. La vérité va mettre du temps à émerger.</p>
<p>Dans certains pays structurellement racistes (le Brésil, certaines régions de l’Inde, certains États du Sud des États-Unis, etc), la pandémie a été gérée comme une aubaine, comme une opportunité de génocide partiel et à bas bruit. Cela donnera probablement des idées à d’autres. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1yp">La souffrance</a> est une matière première de choix pour les politiques néofascistes.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les mutilés.</p>
<p>Je persiste à appeler « mutilés » celles et ceux qu’on appelle pudiquement les « Covid-longs ». Les gens qui ont été infectés, qui ont plus ou moins difficilement guéri, mais qui garderont des séquelles toute leur vie. Des séquelles respiratoires, des séquelles neurologiques, et d’autres. Toute leur vie.</p>
<p>Une des rares études que j’ai aperçue sur le sujet des « Covid-longs » évoquait, pour le seul Royaume-Uni, plusieurs centaines de milliers de personnes. C’est juste un ordre de grandeur. Est-ce qu’il existe la moindre étude sur les mutilés du Covid-19 en France ? Est-on prêt à accompagner des centaines de milliers de gens bousillés par le Covid-19 ? On ne se pose semble-t-il même pas la question. Le gouvernement français a choisi, pendant cette pandémie, de continuer <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1Cd">sa politique à long-terme</a> de diminution des capacités hospitalières… que fera-t-il après ?</p>
<p>On sous-estime les traumatisés.</p>
<p>J’appelle « traumatisés » les gens rendus fous ou à moitié fous par l’<a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1zz">absurdistan autoritaire</a>, les décisions aberrantes, les gesticulations médiatiques, le vernis scientifique qui a décrédibilisé l’idée même de science, les manipulations, les <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1xF">Ausweis</a>, le nudge, les passes et le reste. Les cinquante nuances d’enfermement, et les cinquante mille nuances de mépris, encaissés depuis mars 2020 les ont déglingués. Lessivés. Perdus.</p>
<p>Des gens vont mettre des mois et des années à reprendre des habitudes de vie sociale. Certains n’y arriveront pas. Certains ne la reprendront jamais. Le télétravail à perpétuité fascine. Le « présentiel » a été marginalisé, ringardisé. Certains veulent juste ne plus sortir de chez eux, parce qu’ils ont désappris à fréquenter d’autres individus. D’autres, parmi les plus jeunes, ont arrêté d’apprendre à vivre un peu en dehors de leur chambre. D’autres qui n’apprennent plus. D’autres ont désappris. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1t6">Tant et tant sont perdus</a>, tout simplement, perdus, dans tous les sens du temps.</p>
<p>Des gens ont pris l’habitude de considérer les autres comme des menaces, les contacts humains comme des risques biologiques. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-pI">La préférence pour les machines</a>, déjà bien engagée ces dernières décennies, a fait un grand bond en avant.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les dégâts psychologiques, sociologiques, anthropologiques.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les conséquences des mensonges, des trahisons et des manipulations. La France est un bon exemple, pour les conséquences des mensonges. Comme l’ont relevé de nombreux observateurs, <a href="https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/emmanuel-todd-depuis-le-covid-nous-savons-que-le-mensonge-d-etat-regne-en-france_2131227.html">le seul talent des « élites dirigeantes » de ce pays, c’est le mensonge</a>. La manipulation. La perfidie. Le fameux nudge n’est que la cerise sur le gâteau. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1wX">Prendre les gens pour des cons</a>, ils adorent que ça, et en fait ils ne savent faire que ça. On sous-estime à quel point cette pandémie a été une aubaine pour le déchaînement du néolibéralisme (alias, le libéralisme autoritaire) en France. Les conséquences sont et seront tragiques.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les conséquences en particulier de la monstruosité appelée « passe sanitaire ». Ce machin a fracturé le pays avec une efficacité sidérante. En quelques semaines à peine, ce machin a créé de toutes pièces une nouvelle minorité, et fabriqué un nouveau troupeau de boucs-émissaires. Comme si la société française n’avait pas déjà assez de fractures ! Le rêve de Margaret Thatcher : There is no such thing as society.</p>
<p>Les « élites dirigeantes », soucieuses de diviser pour régner, se contentaient jusqu’ici de surfer sur les fractures existantes, de jeter de l’essence sur les braises : ce machin leur a montré comment en créer de toutes pièces. Une fracture instantanée, ex-nihilo, assistée par ordinateur ! Ça leur ouvre de nouvelles perspectives vertigineuses. Ils recommenceront. Il y en aura d’autres, des QR codes « cools et pratiques à utiliser » dans les prochaines années. Et des boucs-émissaires, plein de boucs-émissaires. Ils vont adorer en inventer d’autres. McKinsey a surement déjà des slides toutes prêtes.</p>
<p>On sous-estime tellement toutes sortes de choses, parce que, plus que jamais, <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-sS">on ne sait plus ce qui est important</a>, on ne sait plus discerner ce qui est important, ni collectivement, ni même individuellement.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les mauvaises habitudes dont on ne saura pas se défaire, et les bonnes habitudes qu’on ne saura jamais reprendre. Prendre le temps de se voir, de se parler, de s’écouter, de s’apprécier. Croiser des gens. Retrouver des gens. Être parmi des gens. Ne pas avoir peur des gens. Vivre sans la peur. Vivre hors la peur. Vivre sans les écrans. Vivre hors des écrans. Perdre du temps hors des écrans. Se laisser aller hors des écrans. Se laisser aller. Ne pas se laisser enfermer. Ne pas se laisser ensevelir. Vivre. On ne sait plus faire. On sous-estime à quel point on ne sait plus faire. On ne sait même plus ce qui est important.</p>
<p><a href="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg"><img loading="lazy" data-attachment-id="6243" data-permalink="https://prototypekblog.wordpress.com/2021/10/28/on-sous-estime-ce-qui-sest-passe/avalanche/" data-orig-file="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg" data-orig-size="800,270" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta='{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}' data-image-title="Avalanche" data-image-description="" data-image-caption="" data-medium-file="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=300" data-large-file="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=640" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-6243" src="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=640&amp;h=216" alt="" srcset="https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=640&amp;h=216 640w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=150&amp;h=51 150w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=300&amp;h=101 300w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg?w=768&amp;h=259 768w, https://prototypekblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/avalanche.jpg 800w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px"></a>On sous-estime la suite.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les morts et les mutilés encore à venir parce qu’on se laisse bercer par l’idée qu’ils seront loin de chez nous.</p>
<p>On sous-estime les risques de nouveaux variants. Les pays « riches » ont choisi de laisser les pays « pauvres » se débrouiller tout seuls. Cyniquement, ouvertement, effectivement. The world is watching. On parle, au singulier et au passé, du « variant anglais », du « variant sud-africain », du « variant indien ». On ignore en général qu’il y a déjà eu des milliers de variants, recensés ici et là, du Brésil à l’Inde. Chaque jour peut émerger un nouveau variant, plus dangereux et plus infectieux. Mais on laisse les bouillons de culture bouillonner. On ne lèvera pas les brevets sur les vaccins. On ne mobilisera pas les capacités industrielles nécessaires à l’échelle de l’humanité. On n’agira pas à l’échelle de l’humanité, qui est pourtant la seule échelle pertinente. Les dividendes seront préservés. <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-11k">Les bonus seront payés</a>.</p>
<p>On s’était fait, à l’usure, à l’idée monstrueuse que le Covid-19 était une maladie juste pour les vieux et les faibles. On se fait à l’idée, non moins monstrueuse, que ce ne sera bientôt plus qu’une maladie de pays pauvres. Vae victis. Le « lâche soulagement » dont parlait Édouard Daladier après les accords de Munich… On est sauvés et tant pis pour le reste du monde. Préparez Noël. Consommez. Oubliez.</p>
<p>On oublie que ce choc n’est pas fini.</p>
<p>On ne veut pas voir qu’il y en aura d’autres. Il y aura d’autres chocs épidémiques, et plus largement des chocs biologiques et écologiques. C’est <a href="https://blog.mondediplo.net/problemes-de-la-transition">l’un des verdicts les plus lucides de Frédéric Lordon</a> :</p>
<blockquote><p>On ne pourra pas vouloir la fin du système qui nous promet le double désastre viral et environnemental, et la continuation de ses « bienfaits » matériels. C’est un lot : avec l’iPhone 15, la voiture Google et la 7G viendront inséparablement la caniculisation du monde et les pestes. Il faudra le dire, le répéter, jusqu’à ce que ces choses soient parfaitement claires dans la conscience commune.</p></blockquote>
<p>On sous-estime les chocs à venir. Tous largement prévisibles, au moins partiellement anticipables, mais on ne les prévoira pas, on ne les anticipera pas, et on fera taire celles et ceux qui le voudraient ou le pourraient. Au mieux, on les sous-estimera. On ne veut pas regarder plus loin que le bout de notre nez. Il faut rassurer les marchés. Il faut relancer la croissance. Il faut rembourser la dette. Il faut s’adapter. Y a qu’à être <a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1Ay">résilients</a> !</p>
<p>On ne veut pas même voir que rien n’est fait pour anticiper les chocs à venir. Le pillage continue. Les priorités n’ont pas changé. En pleine pandémie, alors que l’argent magique de la BCE coulait à flots pour décupler les patrimoines financiers, la France continuait à diminuer ses capacités hospitalières — et, en fait, ses capacités humaines en général. La santé, l’école, les soins, le bien-être, l’espérance de vie en bonne santé et tutti quanti, restent des coûts à réduire ; et, pour les parties potentiellement rentables, de la chair à privatisation. Le capital a faim. On sous-estime à quel point le capital a faim.</p>
<p><a href="https://wp.me/p2Y5zY-1qc">On n’était pas prêts en mars 2020</a>.</p>
<p>On ne sera pas prêts au prochain choc.</p>
<p>Bienvenue au XXIème siècle ! Vous pouvez rallumer votre télévision ou votre Instagram. Cassandre ne passera pas.</p>
<p>Bonne nuit.</p>

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<h1>We’re Optimizing Ourselves to Death</h1>
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<h4>Burnout is the inevitable result of our endlessly accelerating pace of life</h4>

<figure class="wp-block-image"><img data-attachment-id="552" data-permalink="https://zandercutt.com/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5-32-05-pm/" data-orig-file="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png" data-orig-size="564,744" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta='{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}' data-image-title="screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm" data-image-description="" data-image-caption="" data-medium-file="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png?w=227" data-large-file="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png?w=564" src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png" alt="" class="wp-image-552"><figcaption>Illustration: Jutta Kuss/Getty Images</figcaption></figure>

<p><strong>Author’s Note</strong>: I’ve recently partnered with <a href="https://diginthere.com/">Project DigInThere</a>, an online project to help people get more out of the articles they read. <a href="https://diginthere.com/">Project DigInThere</a> enables authors (in this case, me) to create 3-4 question “quests” that readers (in this case, you) can review prior to reading an article. Doing so primes you with what to look for in the article, and then you can take the quest at the end of the article to test your recall. If you’re interested, you can review the quest I’ve built by <a href="https://diginthere.com/quests/zandercutt-2019-02-17-were-optimizing-ourselves-to-death-2447316663cd/view">clicking here</a>, then take it after reading the article and see how you do. Or you can just read the article — it’s up to you ;).</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p><strong>pro·cel·er·a·tion</strong></p>

<p>/prōˌseləˈrāSH(ə)n/</p>

<p><em>noun</em></p>

<ol><li>The acceleration of acceleration</li></ol>

<p>— excerpt from <em>The Age of Earthquakes</em>, by Shannon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p class="has-drop-cap">There’s a famous thought experiment in economics known as the “prisoner’s dilemma.” In it, two men have been caught committing a crime. Each of them is placed in a separate interrogation room and effectively has two options: confess or lie. There are three possible outcomes (the payoffs of which are illustrated in the payoff matrix below):</p>

<p><strong>Outcome 1</strong>: Both confess, and both serve eight years in prison (illustrated by payoff “-8, -8” in Figure A).</p>

<figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/cec19-1vvzfhu09tthxuusxda1zeg.png" alt=""><figcaption>Figure A: The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Credit: Author</figcaption></figure>

<p><strong>Outcome 2</strong>: Both men lie, and both serve one year in prison (illustrated by payoff “-1, -1” in Figure A).</p>

<p><strong>Outcome 3</strong>: One man confesses while the other lies. The liar serves the longest possible sentence, 10 years, while the confessor goes free (illustrated by payoff “-10, 0” in Figure A).</p>

<p>So, if both men lie, they both get off with a lighter sentence. That appears to be the full story — except it isn’t.</p>

<p>The importance of the prisoner’s dilemma is understanding that in selecting a strategy, each player should account for the effectiveness of that strategy given what the other player might do.</p>

<p>Knowing this, consider the game from the perspective of Prisoner 1. If he thinks Prisoner 2 will lie, he should confess, because serving zero years in prison is better than serving one. If he thinks Prisoner 2 will confess, he should also confess, because serving eight years in prison is better than serving 10. In this situation, confessing is both players’ dominant strategy, the strategy they should play regardless of what the other player does.</p>

<p>This thought experiment illustrates how two self-interested individuals with a clear way to maximize their collective utility fail to do so. It also happens to be a fantastic way to understand our current moment. Millennials — not all of us, but many of us — are burned out, and the prisoner’s dilemma can shed light on why.</p>

<p>Unfortunately, it also sheds light on a distressing conclusion: Barring some miracle of human coordination, our quest to optimize our lives will never slow, let alone stop. If anything, it will accelerate.</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p>Imagine a two-player labor market represented by the prisoner’s dilemma matrix. Now imagine both players encountered a service that would help optimize their lives. For a real-world example (and one I use), let’s take the premade meal delivery service Freshly.</p>

<p>Freshly claims to save people approximately two hours a week in the time they don’t have to spend grocery shopping, meal prepping, or cooking. Now imagine that both players had two choices of how they could spend those hours: either on extra leisure (e.g., sleep, Netflix, a book, etc.,) or on productivity (e.g., optimization/work).</p>

<p>What would each player choose?</p>

<p>Well, if wealth is considered freedom from busyness, or freedom to spend your time as you wish, the hour would be best spent on leisure. When forming a strategy, however — like with the prisoner’s dilemma — players must consider those strategies in the context of what the other players in the game might do. Consider the adjusted payoff matrix below:</p>

<p><strong>Outcome 1</strong>: Both players use the time afforded by the service’s convenience to optimize/work harder and thus remain in a state of constant acceleration (illustrated by payoff “1, 1” in Figure B).</p>

<figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/92958-1qccvg4lbzz4zmcjpbuhs6w.png" alt=""><figcaption>Figure B: The Millennial Dilemma (leisure vs. work). Credit: Author.</figcaption></figure>

<p><strong>Outcome 2</strong>: Both players use the time afforded by the service’s convenience to relax (illustrated by payoff “8, 8” in Figure A).</p>

<p><strong>Outcome 3</strong>: Player 1 uses the time afforded by the service’s convenience to optimize/work harder, while Player 2 uses it to relax. Player 1 reaps the benefits of being the only provider of labor in a market and corners it. Player 2 languishes as the world accelerates endlessly and leaves him behind (illustrated by payoff “10, 0” in Figure A).</p>

<p>Borrowing earlier analysis, it’s clear that given the payoffs, both players have a dominant strategy: work. If Player 2 relaxes, Player 1 should work because a payoff of 10 is better than a payoff of 8. If the Player 2 works, Player 1 should also work because a payoff of 1 is better than a payoff of zero.</p>

<p>Now, remember, these payoffs — and their explanations — are completely made up. In the modern era, there is no reason to be convinced that torturing yourself with additional employment is associated with any improvement in your lifestyle. And yet this is exactly how most people behave.</p>

<p>Thus, we arrive at our new Nash equilibrium: Both players use a service — mind you, a service built to supposedly make their lives easier and more relaxing — that ends up making their lives more stressful and complex. Put another way, both players burn out.</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p>In a recent viral BuzzFeed article, “<a href="https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennials-burnout-generation-debt-work" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation</a>,” Anne Helen Petersen notes this seeming paradox of leisure, specifically as it pertains to freed up time. She writes:</p>

<blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Attempts [by companies] to discourage working “off the clock” misfire, as millennials read them not as permission to stop working, but a means to further distinguish themselves by being available anyway.</p></blockquote>

<p>In other words: Attempts by companies like Google or Freshly to create services that save you time misfire, as millennials see them not as services that will give them more time to relax, but as services that will increase the amount of time they’re available to work.</p>

<p>As employees in a hyperproductive, work-obsessed world, we’ve become acutely aware of any opportunity for optimization. Our Instagram feeds are filled with every possible combination of meal delivery service and online shopper that exists. Startups emerge daily to automate every mundane activity ever scrawled on and scratched off a legal pad.</p>

<p>The escalators I take to work are filled with the same desperate faces and vacant eyes I feel staring through me on the subway, except instead of standing still, they’re bounding up it, subconsciously aware that below their feet is yet another opportunity to optimize on an existing convenience. This, if anything, is a symptom of our current moment: People ignoring the luxury of a moving staircase in favor of whatever sprinting up it can transport them to faster.</p>

<p>There’s a kind of sick satisfaction derived from optimizing one’s own life, and there’s a good reason: Being able to do so is a status symbol. Only the most successful are free enough to spend their time finding better ways to spend their time. For those at the very top, I imagine these methods of optimization can actually exist in a vacuum; billionaires can optimize for the sake of optimizing, rather than to keep their head above water. For the rest of the world, optimization is a survival mechanism. To them, the tools that are luxuries to those at the top are good for one thing and one thing only: freeing up time that is only ever used to get more done.</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p>The one bright side to all this productivity should be that everyone makes more money, but that’s all too often not the case. The popular narrative is that we’re all working harder, but “wages haven’t risen in 40 years,” and “purchasing power is lower now than any point in recent memory.” The economist in me has always struggled with this line of thinking. Wages are only truly relevant indicators of wealth in the sense that they allow you increased control over how you spend your time. If you’re earning a wage and a service comes along that saves you the time and effort you’d normally have to expend to access a certain good (read: Freshly for meals), that service effectively increases the value of your existing wage. Thus, even though you’re not earning any more money, you’re now wealthier.</p>

<p>For consumers, services like Google and Freshly do exactly this.</p>

<p>The media, though — and a select few politicians — prefer a different narrative. “There’s a finite amount of money in the world,” they effectively claim, “and since we’re making less, and tech companies are making more, it follows that tech companies are to blame for wage stagnation, which is a net bad, always.”</p>

<p>Reality, though, isn’t that simple.</p>

<p>Though companies like Google and Amazon do generate healthy — and yes, <a href="https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/corporate-profits" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">quite frankly absurd</a> — returns for their executive teams and shareholders, they’re valuable because people find whatever they offer to be worth more than whatever they’re being asked to pay for it. In the case of Google, that offering is time (via frictionless access to information), and its price is effectively zero. The partial rationalization I make for stagnant wages, then, is that Google and services like it allow people to get more out of the same wage.</p>

<p>In this world, Google and its contemporaries are to blame for wage stagnation, but only because they’re creating a world where wages are no longer necessarily synonymous with wealth. Ergo, wage stagnation at the hands of tech companies — everyone’s favorite narrative — is a feature, not a bug.</p>

<p>The problem with this line of thinking, though, gets at the root of both the millennial obsession with work and the tendency to burn out.</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p>Let’s return to the prisoner’s dilemma as it pertains to the millennial “obsession with work.” When presented with time-saving utilities (Google, Freshly, etc.) and effectively given the option to use them to either (a) relax or (b) optimize and work harder, every millennial’s dominant strategy is to optimize and work harder. This explains why it doesn’t feel like our lives are getting easier even as things have never been better. We’re adjusting our behavior in the exact same, suboptimal way to every supposed convenience modernity throws at us.</p>

<p>This also explains why productivity apps — which includes Amazon and Google because their services save time — proliferate like Medusa’s heads. Each one births a dozen more because, in the modern era, the best way to spend your time is finding better ways to spend your time.</p>

<figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/d764f-1fdomxxwbcjjdu665olix6q.png" alt=""><figcaption>Credit: <a href="https://www.freshly.com/" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Freshly</a>. Photo by author.</figcaption></figure>

<p>Take Freshly as an example again. As we’ve noted, Freshly implicitly promises at least several hours a week in saved time by not having to “get in the grocery line,” “watch water boil,” or “plan the week’s meals.” With that hour (or two), it claims, you can “get a good workout in,” “watch the game in real time,” or “plan a movie night.”</p>

<p>And all of these are fantastic things, but it isn’t hard to imagine three new services arising in the near future as a response to Freshly’s success. First, a gym productivity app that claims to “shred you in half the time.” Second, an algorithmic highlight tape that captures the best moments of every game and delivers them to you. And third, a service that gives you the same level of content you’d expect from a cinema, but promises you won’t have to leave the couch. The kicker? All of these services (a) already exist, and (b) are now to Freshly exactly what Freshly was at some point to some other time-saving utility. Like Freshly, all of these new, hypothetical services also save time that can — and will — be used to find even more ways to save time, ad infinitum.</p>

<p>Optimization begets optimization and says we’re its beneficiaries, and in many ways, we are. But given our reliable ignorance of what our lives have conditioned us to do with free time (read: optimize and work harder), we’re better characterized as optimization’s subjects, along for the ride as our pace of life accelerates endlessly.</p>

<p>Yuval Harari may have put it best in <em>Sapiens</em> when he wrote:</p>

<blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.</p></blockquote>

<p>This, at its core, is the process that leads to burnout.</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p>A rather elegant solution to the prisoner’s dilemma was proposed years ago, after the initial thought experiment was conceived. The idea was to have players engage in repeated versions of the same game and have the payoffs of each game carry over into the next round. The rationale was simple: upon realizing the game would continue to be played, people would also realize it was in their best interest to cooperate. This is a pessimistic view of society, but it’s also an accurate one.</p>

<p>Humanity cooperates because historical precedent (read: repeated games) dictates doing so — with very few exceptions — is everyone’s dominant strategy.</p>

<p>When you play out the prisoner’s dilemma game in real life with the repeated games wrinkle added, the results are what you’d expect: People begin to cooperate. The problem with this solution is that while it works to inspire cooperation on a small scale, global cooperation is much harder.</p>

<p>This gets at why we make suboptimal decisions at a global scale: There isn’t yet a feasible way to facilitate repeated games between seven billion individuals. Even if there were, and we could all agree to only use time-saving utilities to relax for the rest of our lives, all it would take for the entire system to unravel would be one individual cheating on the agreement, optimizing, and working harder.</p>

<p>Given this impossibility of global coordination, we will continue to behave in our own self-interests. And we’ll continue to make suboptimal decisions. We’re playing a rigged game, and every time we do, our pace of life accelerates, and the world moves faster.</p>

<p>The acceleration of our collective pace of life is not a result of stupidity or irrationality; rather, it is a symptom of what is perfectly predicted by the prisoner’s dilemma at a global scale: Hyper-rational individuals making hyper-rational decisions on how to spend their time by launching into an inescapable arms race of productivity. Burnout is inevitable.</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<h4><strong>time snack</strong></h4>

<p>/tīm/ /snak/</p>

<p><em>noun</em></p>

<p>noun: <strong>time snack</strong>; plural noun: <strong>time snacks</strong></p>

<ol><li>Often annoying moments of pseudo-leisure created by computers when they stop to save a file or to search for software updates or merely to mess with your mind.</li></ol>

<p>— excerpt from <em>The Age of Earthquakes</em>, by Shannon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist</p>

<hr class="wp-block-separator">

<p>The one silver lining here is that millennials, to our credit, seem generally relieved by the knowledge that burnout has a name. Like “depression” or “anxiety,” labeling a condition everyone’s feeling legitimizes it. It also gives those experiencing it the hope that it might be addressed — because it indicates that it needs to be addressed. What is less clear is whether that hope is justified, true as it is that global coordination is impossible, and there will always be someone using the next great convenience to work harder than you.</p>

<p>This, more than anything, is why we will remain the burnout generation.</p>

<p>It isn’t because we see intrinsic value in the absurd hours we put in, though to cope, many of us have convinced ourselves we do. It’s because the rules of the game we play dictate that working those hours — and outworking everyone else — is our dominant strategy. When we see long weekends and think “work before play,” when we see Friday nights and think “sleep before clubs,” when we see escalators as accelerators and not opportunities to “just take a second,” we’re nothing more than hyper-rational prisoners making a decision that would be inaccurately characterized as a dilemma because the answer is obvious.</p>

<p>When given the choice, we optimize.</p>

<p>Then we work.</p>
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title: We’re Optimizing Ourselves to Death
url: https://zandercutt.com/2019/02/18/were-optimizing-ourselves-to-death/
hash_url: b3db6a66bfa8f11941f00ac4fa1175e5

<h4>Burnout is the inevitable result of our endlessly accelerating pace of life</h4>



<figure class="wp-block-image"><img data-attachment-id="552" data-permalink="https://zandercutt.com/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5-32-05-pm/" data-orig-file="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png" data-orig-size="564,744" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta='{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}' data-image-title="screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm" data-image-description="" data-image-caption="" data-medium-file="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png?w=227" data-large-file="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png?w=564" src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/screen-shot-2019-03-06-at-5.32.05-pm.png" alt="" class="wp-image-552"><figcaption>Illustration: Jutta Kuss/Getty Images</figcaption></figure>



<p><strong>Author’s Note</strong>: I’ve recently partnered with <a href="https://diginthere.com/">Project DigInThere</a>, an online project to help people get more out of the articles they read. <a href="https://diginthere.com/">Project DigInThere</a> enables authors (in this case, me) to create 3-4 question “quests” that readers (in this case, you) can review prior to reading an article. Doing so primes you with what to look for in the article, and then you can take the quest at the end of the article to test your recall. If you’re interested, you can review the quest I’ve built by <a href="https://diginthere.com/quests/zandercutt-2019-02-17-were-optimizing-ourselves-to-death-2447316663cd/view">clicking here</a>, then take it after reading the article and see how you do. Or you can just read the article — it’s up to you ;).</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p><strong>pro·cel·er·a·tion</strong></p>



<p>/prōˌseləˈrāSH(ə)n/</p>



<p><em>noun</em></p>



<ol><li>The acceleration of acceleration</li></ol>



<p>— excerpt from <em>The Age of Earthquakes</em>, by Shannon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p class="has-drop-cap">There’s a famous thought experiment in economics known as the “prisoner’s dilemma.” In it, two men have been caught committing a crime. Each of them is placed in a separate interrogation room and effectively has two options: confess or lie. There are three possible outcomes (the payoffs of which are illustrated in the payoff matrix below):</p>



<p><strong>Outcome 1</strong>: Both confess, and both serve eight years in prison (illustrated by payoff “-8, -8” in Figure A).</p>



<figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/cec19-1vvzfhu09tthxuusxda1zeg.png" alt=""><figcaption>Figure A: The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Credit: Author</figcaption></figure>



<p><strong>Outcome 2</strong>: Both men lie, and both serve one year in prison (illustrated by payoff “-1, -1” in Figure A).</p>



<p><strong>Outcome 3</strong>: One man confesses while the other lies. The liar serves the longest possible sentence, 10 years, while the confessor goes free (illustrated by payoff “-10, 0” in Figure A).</p>



<p>So, if both men lie, they both get off with a lighter sentence. That appears to be the full story — except it isn’t.</p>



<p>The importance of the prisoner’s dilemma is understanding that in selecting a strategy, each player should account for the effectiveness of that strategy given what the other player might do.</p>



<p>Knowing this, consider the game from the perspective of Prisoner 1. If he thinks Prisoner 2 will lie, he should confess, because serving zero years in prison is better than serving one. If he thinks Prisoner 2 will confess, he should also confess, because serving eight years in prison is better than serving 10. In this situation, confessing is both players’ dominant strategy, the strategy they should play regardless of what the other player does.</p>



<p>This thought experiment illustrates how two self-interested individuals with a clear way to maximize their collective utility fail to do so. It also happens to be a fantastic way to understand our current moment. Millennials — not all of us, but many of us — are burned out, and the prisoner’s dilemma can shed light on why.</p>



<p>Unfortunately, it also sheds light on a distressing conclusion: Barring some miracle of human coordination, our quest to optimize our lives will never slow, let alone stop. If anything, it will accelerate.</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p>Imagine a two-player labor market represented by the prisoner’s dilemma matrix. Now imagine both players encountered a service that would help optimize their lives. For a real-world example (and one I use), let’s take the premade meal delivery service Freshly.</p>



<p>Freshly claims to save people approximately two hours a week in the time they don’t have to spend grocery shopping, meal prepping, or cooking. Now imagine that both players had two choices of how they could spend those hours: either on extra leisure (e.g., sleep, Netflix, a book, etc.,) or on productivity (e.g., optimization/work).</p>



<p>What would each player choose?</p>



<p>Well, if wealth is considered freedom from busyness, or freedom to spend your time as you wish, the hour would be best spent on leisure. When forming a strategy, however — like with the prisoner’s dilemma — players must consider those strategies in the context of what the other players in the game might do. Consider the adjusted payoff matrix below:</p>



<p><strong>Outcome 1</strong>: Both players use the time afforded by the service’s convenience to optimize/work harder and thus remain in a state of constant acceleration (illustrated by payoff “1, 1” in Figure B).</p>



<figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/92958-1qccvg4lbzz4zmcjpbuhs6w.png" alt=""><figcaption>Figure B: The Millennial Dilemma (leisure vs. work). Credit: Author.</figcaption></figure>



<p><strong>Outcome 2</strong>: Both players use the time afforded by the service’s convenience to relax (illustrated by payoff “8, 8” in Figure A).</p>



<p><strong>Outcome 3</strong>: Player 1 uses the time afforded by the service’s convenience to optimize/work harder, while Player 2 uses it to relax. Player 1 reaps the benefits of being the only provider of labor in a market and corners it. Player 2 languishes as the world accelerates endlessly and leaves him behind (illustrated by payoff “10, 0” in Figure A).</p>



<p>Borrowing earlier analysis, it’s clear that given the payoffs, both players have a dominant strategy: work. If Player 2 relaxes, Player 1 should work because a payoff of 10 is better than a payoff of 8. If the Player 2 works, Player 1 should also work because a payoff of 1 is better than a payoff of zero.</p>



<p>Now, remember, these payoffs — and their explanations — are completely made up. In the modern era, there is no reason to be convinced that torturing yourself with additional employment is associated with any improvement in your lifestyle. And yet this is exactly how most people behave.</p>



<p>Thus, we arrive at our new Nash equilibrium: Both players use a service — mind you, a service built to supposedly make their lives easier and more relaxing — that ends up making their lives more stressful and complex. Put another way, both players burn out.</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p>In a recent viral BuzzFeed article, “<a href="https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennials-burnout-generation-debt-work" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation</a>,” Anne Helen Petersen notes this seeming paradox of leisure, specifically as it pertains to freed up time. She writes:</p>



<blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Attempts [by companies] to discourage working “off the clock” misfire, as millennials read them not as permission to stop working, but a means to further distinguish themselves by being available anyway.</p></blockquote>



<p>In other words: Attempts by companies like Google or Freshly to create services that save you time misfire, as millennials see them not as services that will give them more time to relax, but as services that will increase the amount of time they’re available to work.</p>



<p>As employees in a hyperproductive, work-obsessed world, we’ve become acutely aware of any opportunity for optimization. Our Instagram feeds are filled with every possible combination of meal delivery service and online shopper that exists. Startups emerge daily to automate every mundane activity ever scrawled on and scratched off a legal pad.</p>



<p>The escalators I take to work are filled with the same desperate faces and vacant eyes I feel staring through me on the subway, except instead of standing still, they’re bounding up it, subconsciously aware that below their feet is yet another opportunity to optimize on an existing convenience. This, if anything, is a symptom of our current moment: People ignoring the luxury of a moving staircase in favor of whatever sprinting up it can transport them to faster.</p>



<p>There’s a kind of sick satisfaction derived from optimizing one’s own life, and there’s a good reason: Being able to do so is a status symbol. Only the most successful are free enough to spend their time finding better ways to spend their time. For those at the very top, I imagine these methods of optimization can actually exist in a vacuum; billionaires can optimize for the sake of optimizing, rather than to keep their head above water. For the rest of the world, optimization is a survival mechanism. To them, the tools that are luxuries to those at the top are good for one thing and one thing only: freeing up time that is only ever used to get more done.</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p>The one bright side to all this productivity should be that everyone makes more money, but that’s all too often not the case. The popular narrative is that we’re all working harder, but “wages haven’t risen in 40 years,” and “purchasing power is lower now than any point in recent memory.” The economist in me has always struggled with this line of thinking. Wages are only truly relevant indicators of wealth in the sense that they allow you increased control over how you spend your time. If you’re earning a wage and a service comes along that saves you the time and effort you’d normally have to expend to access a certain good (read: Freshly for meals), that service effectively increases the value of your existing wage. Thus, even though you’re not earning any more money, you’re now wealthier.</p>



<p>For consumers, services like Google and Freshly do exactly this.</p>



<p>The media, though — and a select few politicians — prefer a different narrative. “There’s a finite amount of money in the world,” they effectively claim, “and since we’re making less, and tech companies are making more, it follows that tech companies are to blame for wage stagnation, which is a net bad, always.”</p>



<p>Reality, though, isn’t that simple.</p>



<p>Though companies like Google and Amazon do generate healthy — and yes, <a href="https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/corporate-profits" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">quite frankly absurd</a> — returns for their executive teams and shareholders, they’re valuable because people find whatever they offer to be worth more than whatever they’re being asked to pay for it. In the case of Google, that offering is time (via frictionless access to information), and its price is effectively zero. The partial rationalization I make for stagnant wages, then, is that Google and services like it allow people to get more out of the same wage.</p>



<p>In this world, Google and its contemporaries are to blame for wage stagnation, but only because they’re creating a world where wages are no longer necessarily synonymous with wealth. Ergo, wage stagnation at the hands of tech companies — everyone’s favorite narrative — is a feature, not a bug.</p>



<p>The problem with this line of thinking, though, gets at the root of both the millennial obsession with work and the tendency to burn out.</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p>Let’s return to the prisoner’s dilemma as it pertains to the millennial “obsession with work.” When presented with time-saving utilities (Google, Freshly, etc.) and effectively given the option to use them to either (a) relax or (b) optimize and work harder, every millennial’s dominant strategy is to optimize and work harder. This explains why it doesn’t feel like our lives are getting easier even as things have never been better. We’re adjusting our behavior in the exact same, suboptimal way to every supposed convenience modernity throws at us.</p>



<p>This also explains why productivity apps — which includes Amazon and Google because their services save time — proliferate like Medusa’s heads. Each one births a dozen more because, in the modern era, the best way to spend your time is finding better ways to spend your time.</p>



<figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://zandernethercutt.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/d764f-1fdomxxwbcjjdu665olix6q.png" alt=""><figcaption>Credit: <a href="https://www.freshly.com/" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Freshly</a>. Photo by author.</figcaption></figure>



<p>Take Freshly as an example again. As we’ve noted, Freshly implicitly promises at least several hours a week in saved time by not having to “get in the grocery line,” “watch water boil,” or “plan the week’s meals.” With that hour (or two), it claims, you can “get a good workout in,” “watch the game in real time,” or “plan a movie night.”</p>



<p>And all of these are fantastic things, but it isn’t hard to imagine three new services arising in the near future as a response to Freshly’s success. First, a gym productivity app that claims to “shred you in half the time.” Second, an algorithmic highlight tape that captures the best moments of every game and delivers them to you. And third, a service that gives you the same level of content you’d expect from a cinema, but promises you won’t have to leave the couch. The kicker? All of these services (a) already exist, and (b) are now to Freshly exactly what Freshly was at some point to some other time-saving utility. Like Freshly, all of these new, hypothetical services also save time that can — and will — be used to find even more ways to save time, ad infinitum.</p>



<p>Optimization begets optimization and says we’re its beneficiaries, and in many ways, we are. But given our reliable ignorance of what our lives have conditioned us to do with free time (read: optimize and work harder), we’re better characterized as optimization’s subjects, along for the ride as our pace of life accelerates endlessly.</p>



<p>Yuval Harari may have put it best in <em>Sapiens</em> when he wrote:</p>



<blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.</p></blockquote>



<p>This, at its core, is the process that leads to burnout.</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p>A rather elegant solution to the prisoner’s dilemma was proposed years ago, after the initial thought experiment was conceived. The idea was to have players engage in repeated versions of the same game and have the payoffs of each game carry over into the next round. The rationale was simple: upon realizing the game would continue to be played, people would also realize it was in their best interest to cooperate. This is a pessimistic view of society, but it’s also an accurate one.</p>



<p>Humanity cooperates because historical precedent (read: repeated games) dictates doing so — with very few exceptions — is everyone’s dominant strategy.</p>



<p>When you play out the prisoner’s dilemma game in real life with the repeated games wrinkle added, the results are what you’d expect: People begin to cooperate. The problem with this solution is that while it works to inspire cooperation on a small scale, global cooperation is much harder.</p>



<p>This gets at why we make suboptimal decisions at a global scale: There isn’t yet a feasible way to facilitate repeated games between seven billion individuals. Even if there were, and we could all agree to only use time-saving utilities to relax for the rest of our lives, all it would take for the entire system to unravel would be one individual cheating on the agreement, optimizing, and working harder.</p>



<p>Given this impossibility of global coordination, we will continue to behave in our own self-interests. And we’ll continue to make suboptimal decisions. We’re playing a rigged game, and every time we do, our pace of life accelerates, and the world moves faster.</p>



<p>The acceleration of our collective pace of life is not a result of stupidity or irrationality; rather, it is a symptom of what is perfectly predicted by the prisoner’s dilemma at a global scale: Hyper-rational individuals making hyper-rational decisions on how to spend their time by launching into an inescapable arms race of productivity. Burnout is inevitable.</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<h4><strong>time snack</strong></h4>



<p>/tīm/ /snak/</p>



<p><em>noun</em></p>



<p>noun: <strong>time snack</strong>; plural noun: <strong>time snacks</strong></p>



<ol><li>Often annoying moments of pseudo-leisure created by computers when they stop to save a file or to search for software updates or merely to mess with your mind.</li></ol>



<p>— excerpt from <em>The Age of Earthquakes</em>, by Shannon Basar, Douglas Coupland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist</p>



<hr class="wp-block-separator">



<p>The one silver lining here is that millennials, to our credit, seem generally relieved by the knowledge that burnout has a name. Like “depression” or “anxiety,” labeling a condition everyone’s feeling legitimizes it. It also gives those experiencing it the hope that it might be addressed — because it indicates that it needs to be addressed. What is less clear is whether that hope is justified, true as it is that global coordination is impossible, and there will always be someone using the next great convenience to work harder than you.</p>



<p>This, more than anything, is why we will remain the burnout generation.</p>



<p>It isn’t because we see intrinsic value in the absurd hours we put in, though to cope, many of us have convinced ourselves we do. It’s because the rules of the game we play dictate that working those hours — and outworking everyone else — is our dominant strategy. When we see long weekends and think “work before play,” when we see Friday nights and think “sleep before clubs,” when we see escalators as accelerators and not opportunities to “just take a second,” we’re nothing more than hyper-rational prisoners making a decision that would be inaccurately characterized as a dilemma because the answer is obvious.</p>



<p>When given the choice, we optimize.</p>



<p>Then we work.</p>

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<li><a href="/david/cache/2021/b0518096cdfacc89f9d5792966e5a3b7/" title="Accès à l’article dans le cache local : On sous-estime ce qui s’est passé">On sous-estime ce qui s’est passé</a> (<a href="https://prototypekblog.wordpress.com/2021/10/28/on-sous-estime-ce-qui-sest-passe/" title="Accès à l’article original distant : On sous-estime ce qui s’est passé">original</a>)</li>
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@@ -415,6 +419,8 @@
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