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Last Updated on February 25, 2018

The Obsession with New Things Is Burdening Our Brain

The Obsession with New Things Is Burdening Our Brain

Commercial organizations depend and thrive on our natural curiosity. That’s right, companies know that people are driven by a strong obsession for obtaining new information, products and services. Just take a look at cellphone companies, and how they constantly find ways to upgrade you to new phones and contracts. Also take a look at your inbox. You’ll no doubt find countless emails arriving every week that are ads and promotions for new stuff.

Now, it’s not that new stuff is bad. It’s just that when we attempt to consume too much new stuff it can be damaging to both our well-being – and our purse.

With companies desperate to keep introducing new and upgraded products, it’s no wonder that low-quality, or even faulty items are becoming more common. And it’s the same with information. There’s so much of it online, that the quality has undoubtedly become degraded. This can negatively impact our psyche and spiritual health.

If you look carefully at the information on offer, you’ll see that only about 10% of it is of high-quality. The rest is fake, throwaway or just pure garbage. To use Hollywood as an example, you’ll tend to find that approximately 10% of all movies are exceptionally good. The other 90% of movies range from average to bad. Unfortunately, as this latter category makes up the bulk of movies coming out of Hollywood – they’re most likely to be the bulk of our viewing time too.

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Recommendation Is a Curse

We usually find out about all this new stuff from “big names” such as celebrities, experts, authority figures and popular online platforms.

Let’s say you fancy purchasing a new book from Amazon. You head over to their site and are immediately presented with an eye-catching section called “New Recommendations.” This is where you’re likely to go to when browsing for a new book purchase.

It’s the same with songs. If you are looking for a new artist or album, Google Play, iTunes or Spotify will be happy to help you out by instantly showing the latest releases.

How about movies? You can hear about these in many ways, but it’s common for Grammy or Oscar award-winning movies to be titles that most people would be keen to watch.

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It appears that our reliability on “authority” for recommendations and good information started decades ago. These were the days before the internet. Consumers had to rely on “big names” to recommend good stuff (eg., movies, music and products). Information was the same too. People relied heavily on experts to tell them facts, and to give opinions on what information was valid and relevant.

When Obsession Becomes Exhaustion

Despite what you might think, the traditional perception about experts is rapidly being proven to be outdated. Clearly, reviews by experts of books, songs and movies don’t represent the true value of these things.  In many cases, the so-called experts may present low-quality stuff to the public as today’s audience has mostly stopped paying attention to what really constitutes good quality. Read more to find out Why It’s Time to Reboot Expertise

As an example for you, think of some of the latest mobile apps that online stores push. Despite impressive screenshots and features, it only takes a minute of using the apps to discover that they are next to worthless. Luckily, you have an uninstall option.

It’s not just products that can leave a bad taste in our mouths – it’s also information. The internet is a great thing, but its downside is that it offers us too much choice – and way too much information. (And often this information is unreliable or blatantly wrong.) It’s no wonder that many of us suffer from “new stuff fatigue”. We’re literally bombarded 24/7 from all sides with ads, news and information.

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Let’s be honest, our brains have limited space and energy, and too much new stuff will have a tendency to burn them out. Not only that, but when the majority of the new information is bad information, this leaves little space to accept and process good information. Find out here How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

Everything You Take in Matters

Our obsession with new things is in our nature, but we can turn things around by controlling what we consume.

For instance, everyone of us can take control of the information we receive. This can be achieved by only selecting and picking the best and most relevant information from online and offline sources. By doing this, we’ll then have the time and space to properly study and absorb the information – instead of having our minds constantly overloaded.

Once you start being selective with information, you’ll quickly discover that the recommendations of experts are no longer necessary. You’ll unearth an intellectual freedom that you never knew was possible. And you’ll begin to enjoy information again, just like you did when you were a small, curious child.

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While it may initially be hard to take control of incoming information, don’t let laziness stop you. Make a determined effort to cut out the dross. This way, you’ll leave yourself with only valuable and appropriate information.

Here’s an idea for you: instead of watching movies based on what’s featured in the latest magazines or online sites, dig into the genre you like, and check out gems you’ve missed all these years. You’ll find that these movies tug on your heart strings. They will be movies that you genuinely enjoy, rather than movies that you’re expected to enjoy.

It’s the same with music. Forget the latest releases, step back in time and choose to listen to artists who made you happy when you were younger. As soon as these songs start playing, you’ll feel a tingle in your spine – and an accompanying lift in your mood. Truly, you’ll be energized by the songs, and you’ll have found your way back to what you really enjoy.

But please don’t take my word for it. Try being selective with your choice of entertainment, information and products, and see what difference it makes to your life. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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