Life is increasingly about being busy. Work, school, family, recreational and other activities occupy our time and there’s less time to be idle. This in moderation, can be a blessing; in many ways though, it is a curse.
This — in some ways — is similar to how societies lived for most of the time. Without the prior efficiency-oriented technologies of our time, many members of various societies had to focus on food for survival, raising the next generation of warriors to preserve the nation’s integrity and engaging in long journeys for the sake of trade and commerce. Our ancestors didn’t have grocery stores, automated warfare machines, or efficient methods of travel. Therefore, it required much more time to achieve essential tasks.
That begs the question: why, in the era of ultra-efficiency, are we so pressed for time? There are several possible reasons; principally, it is tied to corporate culture, socioeconomic disparities, and gender roles.
Corporate culture has perhaps been the largest push for efficiency at the expense of workers’ free time and other personal obligations. Societies like the United States, where your identity is tied into your employment, push for corporate culture and efficiency in all aspects.
Socioeconomic disparities play a major role in this era of ultimate efficiency. Specifically, the upper classes tend to enjoy many leisurely, luxurious activities while the lower classes have to spend more time on essential survival tasks, like feeding (sometimes larger) families, bridging gaps in education and they have to work harder to get to the same endgame as a person from a wealthy class. This not only results in less time for leisure but also makes it more difficult to attend to the essential tasks. Whether or not this amount of wealth resulting in this much disparity is justified is another debate.
Gender roles are an often overlooked aspect of ultimate efficiency. Women now more than ever, are expected to play a role in corporate societies; at the same time, they have an unchanged burden in the maintenance of the family and the home. This causes distress to many women, and it ultimately hurts men and children too.
With all of this in mind, what are the consequences of ultimate efficiency on individuals?
The most evident impact of this culture is its toll on mental and physical health. Depression and anxiety rates especially during but even before COVID-19 were soaring high despite the increasing availability of medication for depression and anxiety. Suicide rates, despite having fluctuations, have a general tendency to rise; this is especially the case in vulnerable populations such as abused/neglected adolescents and veterans.
As for physical health, not even counting other factors such as the rise of fast food and the monetary costs of healthy eating, it is also suffering. The mental and physical are closely aligned, and despite the efforts of organizations such as the Tai Chi For Health Institute, there are still struggles to achieve wellbeing. Societal pressures and stigmas combined with stubbornness contribute to these difficulties.