We Are a Culture Obsessed with Optimization

Our obsession with optimization has edged out our use for a gut. Instead of relying on instinct, we fall back on data to tell us how to optimize everything from productivity to life.

Virginia Heffernan from The New York Times writes that the age of the gut is dead. It's the time of optimization. Wearables and big data have killed it. We are a society obsessed with optimization, she writes:


“In the last few years, The Huffington Post has doled out advice on how to 'optimize' your three-day weekend, your taxes, your Twitter profile, your year-end ritual, your sex drive, your website, your wallet, your joy, your workouts, your Social Security benefits, your testosterone, your investor pitch, your news release, your to-do list, and the world itself.”

It's a notion that's completely alien to some cultures. As Judy Wajcman found when she suggested a more efficient way for Papua New Guineans to optimize production of the coconut milk in a local village, saving time on what the residents expected to be an all-day affair. Their response to her suggestion:

“There was no hurry, they said. Today I see my interest in saving time and increasing productivity as a peculiar and interesting cultural eccentricity.”

Optimization has turned people into thinking like machines, tracking how much they work and how little they can eat in a day. Heffernan wonders if the Apple Watch will continue to drive us further toward optimization, helping relieve us of distraction, only bothering to notify us when productivity is down.

To read more on Heffernan's views on optimization, check out her article on The NYTimes.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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