Laurence Gonzales on Efficiency
Laurence Gonzales won the 2001 and 2002 National Magazine Awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors for National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Since 1970, his essays have appeared in such periodicals as Harper's, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, National Geographic Adventure, Smithsonian Air and Space, Chicago Magazine, San Francisco Magazine, and many others.
He has published a dozen books, including two award–winning collections of essays, three novels, and the book–length essay, One Zero Charlie published by Simon & Schuster. His latest book, Everyday Survival, published by W.W. Norton & Company, is available at book sellers now. His previous book, Deep Survival, is now out in paperback.
To get around these systems takes practice. It’s not something you can do automatically or instantly change your behavior. These are deeply embedded systems and there’s a reason that they are there. They’re there because they make us more efficient. They made us more efficient, however, in an environment that no longer exists, in the wilderness that we came from whether it was jungle or savanna. We had to be quick and efficient so that some of us would survive to reproduce. In a modern environment, they continue to make us efficient in many ways, but that efficiency comes at the cost of our attention, our close attention. And so, one of the things I argue in the book is that efficiency is not necessarily always a good thing. We happen to live in a culture that prizes efficiency. We always want to be more efficient. But I say that’s not really the best strategy in many cases. To take that kind of efficiency and apply it to driving a car is probably not really a good idea. You know, people want to whiz from place to place at high speeds with, you know, multitasking the whole time and that’s definitely a bad idea. So by fighting against that efficiency, by being a little less efficient on purpose, we begin to slower ourselves down and think, “Now, what am I really doing here?” you know. And we can answer that question lots of times by simple answers like, “I’m going to the grocery store. Is this an emergency? You know, do I really need to cross this intersection that quickly or can I wait ‘till there’s really space for me?” Once we begin questioning what we’re doing in these many situations as possible, we really do begin modifying our behavior. And this can permeate our lives. It’s arguable that, you know, this could also paralyze us but that, you know, I’m not arguing for taking it to an extreme, I’m arguing for doing what I call a risk reward loop. Whenever you’re undertaking anything, you’re taking a risk, the risk may be very small, they may be very large depending on what you’re doing, but to ask yourself, what am I doing, what’s the goal, and what’s it worth to me? What am I willing to pay for this next thing I’m going to do? Like, you know, the kid throws the ball up on the roof. I get out the ladder and I think, “Hmm, you know, am I willing to break my neck for that ball or should I just let it go?” These are the types of things we usually don’t think about. We just plunge ahead because we live in a culture that teaches us to plunge ahead.
Being more inefficient on purpose can bring the irrelevancy of our efficient behavior to light Laurence Gonzales notes.
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