Saturday, 7 December 2013

Living by the Law

Question: which technological innovation has given us more individual freedom than any other?  Could it be the mobile phone? How about the internal combustion engine? It has to be the PC, right? Wrong: it's the washing machine. Quite how this has been calculated I do not know but, as always, one has the choice of either studying the research or taking it on trust. Let's just say I am prepared to believe it - although, in the particular case of my own liberation, I am sure the washing machine has played a very minor part.

Nevertheless the effect must be noticeable: only last week a friend of mine told me that I had "too much time" on my hands. Whether or not his accusation was justified (I suspect that he was rather envious of my leisurely schedule, what with him being so busy all the time) is a moot point. In any case I am moved to retort (belatedly) that if he finds himself with insufficient time on his hands, he might do well to examine the underlying cause of his busyness.

He could start by considering the Pareto principle (80% of profit is derived from a mere 20% of activities) which has been used in fields such as economics and business to demonstrate that that a lot of time and effort (80% to be precise) is wasted. I advise my friend to apply the principle to a study of his time-management system - if indeed he has one - so that he may consider the fruitfulness of his activities. He may well find that by dropping the 80% of activity that is pointless he could join me occasionally in browsing Aldi's Special Buys, prior to spending an hour or two in the City Arms.

Time-rich as I may appear to be, there are certain things that I just can't seem to fit into my schedule: writing Christmas cards is one of them. The truth is that I don't fancy all that business of fiddling with address books and envelopes. Of course I do like to receive Christmas cards - so that I can hang them on a string across the wall to serve as decoration and impress visitors with the number of card-friends I have - so I am prepared to accept that, in order to receive, one must give. Perhaps my inability to knuckle down can be explained by Parkinson's Law (work fills the time available in which to complete it). Christmas is ages away so there is plenty of time to do the job. Besides, now that Royal Mail is a privately owned company, surely posting deadlines are no longer an issue? Its systems must be quicker and more efficient than before - even if they are a tad more expensive.

E-cards could be the answer, considering the ease and economy with which they can be sent, but I wouldn't want to receive them since they cannot be displayed on the wall to the same effect. As well as which, there is the Jevons Paradox to consider (increased efficiency brought about by technological innovation produces rising consumption of the resource being used). In other words I would be even longer employed in generating even more of them. Sending them indiscriminately via one's contacts list is just too tempting an option to resist and, although it is feasible to trawl carefully through one's list and be selective, one is suddenly back in fiddly territory. As well as which there is always the possibility of pressing 'send' when one didn't mean to, so that an elderly aunt gets the risqué card intended for someone less easily offended - an eventuality which is reliably predicted by the ubiquitous Sod's Law.

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