Efficiency Always Wins Out

... and we're often worse off for it

We’ve become quite efficient. We can transmit information across the planet in a matter of seconds. We can cook (or have delivered) a nutritious meal in a matter of minutes. We can travel from sea to shining sea — and across them — in a matter of hours. Intricate and complex objects can be manufactured to our minute specifications and delivered to our front door in a matter of weeks, or even days. You want to publish a book? Done in a few months… and you can buy someone else’s book in a matter of seconds.

Efficiency is humanity’s bag. We have gotten really good at it.

The last year has taught us how efficient we really can be. Meetings with several employees, dozens of “networkers,” or even hundreds of conference attendees can now be done much more conveniently without leaving your home. This has changed the way we work, not just during a pandemic…but possibly forever.

School, and its requisite 180 days times seven hours of “instructional time” can all be done online now. What could go wrong? We can attend church anywhere in the world from our bed. Everyone can go to “St Mattress.”

So, how is that working out for us? Are we… healthier? More informed? Better educated? Happier in our work? No? Well why not?

One option came to me recently while exploring the subject of prayer. The question is often asked (mostly by me): why is it so hard to pray? None of the answers have ever satisfied me, but there could be something here on the topic of “efficiency.”

Prayer is the ultimate inefficient exercise. Its effectiveness cannot be improved by an improvement in its efficiency. It’s impervious to efficiency. The inefficiency is melded to its effectiveness; in essence the more inefficient you are, indeed the more inefficient you desire to be in its implementation, the more effective it becomes in improving your spiritual life. There seems to be no way around it. In order to be effective at praying (what “effective” means in terms of praying is a) a topic for another day, and likely b) above my pay grade), you have to be present to a degree that the inefficiency become of zero concern.

But that’s prayer. Prayer is esoteric; it’s spiritual, so of course it’s inefficient, and the inefficiency is good.

What if we approached all the things we do with that sort of … intention. What if we took our time cooking meals; what else could be gained? There are a myriad of various movements in play all over the civilized world in this regard, and they’re not all “religious” in nature. If you boil them down, they really can be summed up as: waste more time cooking, because it’s better for you.

What if we read information deeper for the purpose of understanding ideas instead of memorizing facts and talking points? Is there anyone reading this that thinks that a deeper exploration of ideas and their meaning wouldn’t help the major communication gap we currently have? The polarization, the talking past each other, the tribalism; all could be improved by making our information gathering and processing and deliberation … less efficient. 

What if we ran our businesses, taught our children, worshipped, communicated — with the public, as well as our family, friends, colleagues —  in a way that wasn’t rushed. What if we did it in a way that purposefully was “unnecessary”… and consequentially… inefficient. After all, it’s a lot quicker to just send an email to that friend, listen to a service on your headphones… so that we can have time to… do what? Watch more television?

Maybe efficiency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?