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Consuming the idea of productivity

Every now and then, usually in moments of aimless procrastination, I get drawn into Lifehacker, Gawker Media's blog about how to be more productive. It's full of tips and software downloads and to-do lists and it's uniformly cheerful and perky, but I'm pretty sure it's doing nothing to improve anyone's efficiency. It makes productivity into a fun fantasy to indulge in: Wouldn't it be great if I was one of those people who need to install a keyboard-command application launcher, because I'm so diligently and relentlessly multitasking that I can hardly dare to spare a few nanoseconds away from typing to move my mouse? Wouldn't it be cool if I was the sort of person who learns 10 new foreign words a day courtesy of a daily podcast I have in my hyperorganized personal podcast-processing portal page? Wouldn't I be a hero if I were the type to label all my emails and have them file themselves automatically so that I could spend more time tagging interesting sites on the Web and sharing them through one of the several hundred social networking platforms I've become affiliated with? And that's not to mention all the pseudo-productive hobbies I get to daydream about by browsing around Lifehacker, like putting together a Linux machine that runs all open-source software and retagging all my iTunes files with release dates, album covers, lyrics, and genres.

It's absurd -- the site provides numerous solutions for the same problem, creating the new task (which it will offer a helpful solution to, I'm sure) of having to evaluate which time-saving strategy is best. And the site is updated so frequently that to keep up with it is extremely inefficient (though it does offer specialized feeds so you can cut down the flow). If I truly was concerned with being productive, one of the first things I'd do is forbid myself from reading Lifehacker.

It may just be semantics, but when I think about it, I find something repugnant about "hacking" life. As if life itself weren't enough, and I should be finding shortcuts to preempt its flow, programming myself to be less life-like.

Productivity is not the abstract end in itself that the site makes of it -- it's not a prêt-à-porter product. When devising means to be more productive, obviously it matters what your larger, more meaningful goals are. But productivity for its own sake allows you to forget that you may not have larger, more meaningful goals -- a common affliction in capitalist societies that devalue the meaning of work and make leisure a kind of compulsion. In other words, productivity is another mask for convenience, which is really just consumption efficiency presented as quantitative hedonism.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


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