Efficiency and Productivity in a Real-Time World


We talk with author and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, who has published 10 books on media, culture, and technology. He joins us to discuss his most recent work, Present Shock, about living in today's immediate, always-on world.

What happens when there's nowhere left for the market to expand? In this video segment, Douglas suggests that our views on productivity and employment themselves need to evolve as human attention becomes the new commodity. The full version of the interview can be found here.

A full transcript follows the video.

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Brendan Byrnes: Right. Another thing I want to talk about is productivity, efficiency. Do you think workers today are more efficient, more productive, with this "live in the now" era, or do they get distracted too easily?

I think everyone's familiar with surfing Facebook on work. Is this a good thing or a bad thing when you're talking about efficiency and productivity?

Douglas Rushkoff: In some sense, if we're going to maintain the old models, the old ways of doing business, our efficiency has become a problem. We're more efficient now, really, than we were before, to the point where ... most people are unnecessary to the jobs they have anyway, so the fact that they're checking eBay or checking Twitter or doing something else doesn't really affect their productivity so much, because there are not that many productive assets left -- human productive assets in businesses.

The real challenge now is how we look at our productivity, how we look at employment, really, in a landscape where everything's happening now, where everything's happening all the time.

Byrnes: How has this evolved over time? I assume the Internet was a big catalyst in the whole "living now" thing that you talk about in Present Shock.

Rushkoff: Yeah, although when the Internet first came up in the late '80s, early '90s, we looked at it as a technology that was going to make time. It was going to make us not just more efficient, but allow us to do things -- work from home in your underwear, on your own schedule -- and what we ended up doing was really, we used the Internet as kind of a last gasp for this, for the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The Internet became the dot-com boom, and then human attention, human time, became the new commodity. We ended up strapping the devices to ourselves and having them tweet us and ping us every time someone is going to send us an update or do a little thing.

We've ended up in this state of perpetual emergency responsiveness, which is not an appropriate state for a human or a business. It's because our markets needed new territories to grow. Colonial conquests were over. There were no new territories. There's nothing left to extract, so we try to extract it from ourselves instead.

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Brendan Byrnes has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of eBay and Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Originally published