Productive, worthwhile, or easy?
By default, we follow the path of least resistance. We do what’s easy. This can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the situation we are in.
The problem is that often the easy option is not the most meaningful option. It might satisfy a need on a superficial, short-term level, but it will do the opposite on a deeper level and make you more dissatisfied in the long term.
Why meet someone (hard), when you can message them (easy, enabled by technology)?
Why bother pursuing a romantic relationship (hard) when you can watch porn (easy)?
And so on…
The point is that technology makes substituting one for the other easy, but that substitution is not perfect. The technology allows for short-term need fulfillment, while ensuring that the root cause does not get addressed.
The easy crowds out the worthwhile
Over time the easy, but less satisfying becomes the only thing we know. Why bother learning anything new, or reading quality literature when we can just scroll Instagram Reels or TikTok (which requires little effort)?
Our repertoire of next actions becomes restricted to clicking and tapping. We start to forget that the effort was often worth it.
Our day becomes bifurcated: either you work, or you consume easy entertainment. Everything else falls by the wayside.
This leads to us not pursuing any hobbies or expanding our mind in our free time. This category could be called worthwhile endeavors.
Productive = takes effort, related to work, makes you feel like you’ve achieved something Worthwhile = takes effort, not related to work, makes you feel good
The productive efforts are often driven by the need to survive, and so they stay. But the worthwhile efforts get gradually eliminated because there’s no clear financial imperative.
Now you might be saying:
We can do whatever we want, right? Where’s the harm in scrolling and tapping?
The issue? Less interesting, less capable people
When we rewire our brains so that the easy is always the default, any action that requires any additional level of effort besides tapping, clicking, and scrolling become harder to do, in a relative way.
This isn’t good because the actions that would stretch our minds and improve our lives lie outside of the Easy Zone. Why read Dostoyevsky when you can watch cat videos? (Even though Dostoyevsky might change your fundamental understanding of what it is to be a human being in the modern society.)
But that’s not the only issue.
The easy actions become addictive through easy rewards. Why work on something for an hour and get only the reward of checking a box on your to-do list when you can post a funny one liner and a 100 people to like it and tell you how clever you are? This is also worse because of how easy it is to get this kind of social approval 24/7.
The addiction to easy social approval becomes harmful when it 1) interferes with other life responsibilities or goals 2) it reduces your ability to do anything of consequence by destroying your attention span.
There are a lot of projects and problem that become intractable without a sufficiently long attention span and a certain level of persistence.
This leads to a brutally short-term orientation and an inability to execute on long-term plans, and erodes our very ability to pursue any goal deliberately across a period of days, weeks, months, and years.
Reject the easy, lengthen your attention span, and do something interesting
So that’s the outline of the problem. What to do about it?
Get out of the Easy Zone as often as you can.
Do things that require you to stretch your attention span and stay on track.
Deliberately shut off all distractions and look for things that you know take effort, but also bring you joy, or seem interesting. Things like reading classic literature, or learning to bake bread or play the guitar.
Those endeavors will make you a better, more interesting human being, unlike trying to absorb a random half of the Internet through your eye balls.