Efficiency is overhyped and may, in fact, be damaging.
It may even harm our ability to think.
My father was a highly respected surgeon. Legends gathered and continue to follow him to this day, nearly a year since his passing.
I run into physicians who, upon learning I am his son, tell me of yet another wild story of how he saved the day in some difficult surgery, only to follow it up by running up five flights of stairs leaving much younger residents panting behind him.
Wherever he went, a positive aura followed.
But he had a pessimism about him.
Sitting at the dinner table, lamenting the state of medicine and modernity, he saw the incoming generation of students and worried. Paraphrasing,
“You see a patient, they tell you some symptoms, you put them in a computer, the computer gives you a set of diagnoses and treatment options. You don’t think.”
Lost was any actual thought. In fact, if you thought, you were in some ways punished. If you had an idea that wasn’t in the given options, you had to stop what you were doing to explain yourself, whether to the computer or to some bureaucratic system.
And he often had thoughts that weren’t in the computer.
Meanwhile, the pressures of needing to see the next patient, of documentation, and of an administration subtly encouraging some form of “do the things that make us money”, created a strong current against individual decision. You couldn’t go in another direction without being subtly penalized.
And he watched the students’ ability to think directly impacted.
This wasn’t unique to any particular hospital. This is the state of medicine. In some ways, it is the state of our industries well beyond medicine.
The theft of time is also the theft of thought.
We often celebrate an automatization. For example, the term “second brain” or the *Getting Things Done* idea of setting up systems to get things off of your mind *can* be useful, but they can also steal time and therefore thought.
It happens subtly. For example, in giving up our navigation sense to our phones, a certain direction sense begins to atrophy. Using GPS is not necessarily wrong, but it does have an effect worth reflecting on.
The demand to find greater “efficiency”, to reduce thought and the like can very much work against us.
If we offload our agency, our ability to decide, to inanimate entities outside of ourselves, we risk losing important parts of ourselves. Especially in these times as AI is on the rise, we must remain vigilant.
The strength and beauty of humanity lives in our ability to revisit, reflect, and most importantly, pause and decide.
We may have an extended cognition, a world of tools we fashion outside of ourselves, but we cannot give our minds away.
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