How much can your life be optimized?

Instagram’s algorithm has developed some weird ideas about me. For example, he decided that I might dream of owning shoes made from rec...


Instagram’s algorithm has developed some weird ideas about me. For example, he decided that I might dream of owning shoes made from recycled wood pulp or what looks like reconstituted pencil erasers. I’ve also been wrongly identified as likely to wear nondescript dresses that cost $ 500, candles that smell like old bookcases, and something called “waterproof gold,” which, as far as I know, is just rubbish. ‘normal gold. But primarily, my value as a potential customer is not in my love for flammable-looking dresses or silly-looking heels, but in my relentless pursuit of increased productivity.

For reasons that are not clear to me, I constantly get advertisements for products that promise a lifestyle of relentless optimization: workflow apps, time management apps, polyphasic sleep planning apps. I get ads for podcasts called things like “Get Sh! T Done” and ads in which the product itself isn’t identifiable, but the design brief was clearly “to make people think how bad they are.” like to check things on a list ”. Recently, I received a lot of advertisements for an app called Blinkist, which is basically a tool to acquire and absorb as much information as possible in as short a period of time as the human brain allows.

Like many of these products, Blinkist seems to be based on the belief that every activity can be made more effective, held upside down and shaken until its value is dislodged. In this case, the main activity waiting to be rationalized is reading (takes time, requires sitting down), and the object waiting to be taken apart and rebuilt for maximum comfort is a book ( vase heavy and poorly designed for the information it contains). The service condenses thousands of non-fiction books, identifying “key ideas” – called “blinks,” presumably nodding to Malcolm Gladwell’s book – and presents them in 15-minute formats to its users, who , according to its website, are “some of the busiest people on the planet.

The Blinkist user is not the type to go into a business without knowing in advance what they are getting in return. The website promises that their customers’ reading time will never be wasted, that they “will always come away with a new nugget of information or a key insight.” If that’s too abstract, Blinkist’s site defines the value of its product in precise financial terms: $ 89,000, the combined value of all summary books on offer. And it only costs around $ 8 per month.

Each summary begins with a question: “What’s in it for me?” For example, for someone who asks why they should take 15 minutes of their day to listen to a condensed version of Larissa MacFarquhar “Strangers are drowning: impossible idealism, drastic choices and the desire to help” – a book about “extreme altruists” who commit themselves entirely to the service of others, usually at a high personal and financial cost – the answer is that he will find out if he is “selfless enough to become an altruist”. For someone who hesitates on the summary of “The time of the second hand: the last of the Soviets” by Svetlana Alexievich – a 500 page oral history of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and by extension one of the dominant political ideologies of the 20th century – the sale is that after 15 minutes he will have a grip on what it means to lose your country and beliefs.

Each summary ends with a summary of the summary, under the heading “Final Summary”.

The house style is cheerful and conversational, regardless of the tone of the pre-condensed original text, with the reader coaxed from blink to blink with sometimes startling prompts such as, “Imagine if everything you thought was true were called into question and the world as you knew it changed overnight. How would you feel? ”(From“ Second hour ”). Or:“ Would you say you know each other? Where does your sense of identity come from? ”(From “The Divided Self” by RD Laing, a book on schizophrenia). Each text is checked out for its actionable take-out, even when actionable take-out should prompt the user to immediately put their laptop on their knee, as in the summary of “How to do nothing” by Jenny Odell: “Meaning is often the product of accidents, chance and chance encounters – the real ‘free time’ that our cult of 24/7 productivity seeks to eliminate. Each summary ends with a summary of the summary, under the heading “Final summary”.

Unsurprisingly, Blinkist’s library contains many books on productivity and time optimization, where the answer to the question of what it costs the user is often found in the title. For example, a summary of “Not Today: The Nine Habits of Extreme Productivity” is available on the app, forming a set of productivity findings so dense they could bend space-time. The service has also expanded to “shortcasts”, which are condensed versions of podcasts, with a lot about productivity, time management and generally the idea that there is always a better, faster way, than every piece. contains a secret panel behind which further optimization opportunities are hidden, and if you can’t find them, it’s simply because you haven’t yet tapped into the limitless and almost mystical potential of the state of spirit of optimization.

That this proposition is unfounded hardly needs to be clarified. I find it hard to imagine what one could gain by reading the ruthlessly digested version of “Secondhand Time”, unless your only goal is to pretend to have read it for about 30 seconds, and even then. If you keep crunching the summary, you’ll end up with gibberish, and if you keep condensing the productivity podcast, you’ll end up with white noise.

And yet, there is something about the concept that I cannot shake, because it would be exciting if a shortcut like this worked, if it turned out that there was in fact a way to follow everything. that we are supposed to have read and listened to and formed sophisticated opinions on, opinions which demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the cultural product in question as well as a keen awareness of everything everyone has said about it, ever. I would love if my first thought upon walking into a bookstore was anything other than a slight panic over all the new releases, and it would be great if I had the strength of character to resist the pull of Instagram for more. five minutes.

Even for the sunniest adherent of the optimization mindset, the fact that something like Blinkist exists could be interpreted as a concession that the competing demands for our attention have overwhelmed us all, just about all, and I would be delighted if the solution he offered brought me peace. The real solution seems so tedious and difficult – stoically ignore the hysterical claims about your tattered attention span, stop watching absurd ads on Instagram, read a book from start to finish, then after that read one. other – that if there was an easier get out, I would probably take it.


Photo source: Stopwatch by Andrei Kuzmik / Shutterstock

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