Sunday, January 20, 2019

Opportunity Cost

I had a recent opportunity to return to the USA on a business trip.  While doing some light shopping online I encountered my 2008 order.  For X-mass we agreed with the wife to order our wish list to read.
Two of them on the financial subject have not been read.

This re-enforced my thinking about Zero Based approach to life. Past years have been big for me. My kids were born. We moved to a new city. I had two exciting and well-paid jobs between 2010 and 2016.
I think in new millennia era one separates between “experiencing self” and “remembering self”. Remembering is about kids, new jobs, new city. Experiencing self for was a lot about the internet and my phone.
I start spending a significant amount of time interacting on the internet and my phone than with the family.  Initially, the phone was no more than a player which I can use to make phone calls.  I start picking my phone, tablets much more often that you pick up a knife and fork, pending far longer reading emails, reports, emerging in data than reading books.

The applications on my phone and tablet are enormously powerful and allow me to do a lot on a move, but I am not happy with the role internet plays in my life. I have no problem with disconnecting from the network during vacation or otherwise. It is not about addiction but substitution.  I need to re-think how my time is spent and how to spend it otherwise.
Opportunity cost – the choices we make.  Everything I do with my time is an implicit decision not to do something else.  If I decide to work late, it is a decision not to be at home a read a bedtime story to the kids.  I spend time reading news for an hour, it is an hour I can’t spend reading books.
For this reason, I determined to re-enforce by the zero-based approach and not simply cut back on my digital activities but to fill the free-up time and energy on other stuff.
First: I need to focus on exercises. 400 miles a year with the target of 1,000 miles is not good enough. When traveling I will do my run first thing in the morning, and at home during lunch time.
Second: I would like to spend more time with my kids. Reading together, playing board games, various hobbies.
Third: Read more books myself and educate. This is a challenge, as when away from home I typically work in a group and people like to socialize, simple dinner becomes a 2-3-hour event.

As Daniel Kahneman explained in Thinking, Fast and Slow: “When faced with a difficult question,
we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.” Rather than
asking whether we should buy shares in Amazon, we ask, “Do I like to shop with Amazon?” Instead
of pondering the leadership and managerial qualities of a presidential candidate, we ask ourselves
whether we’d enjoy having a beer with them.

I think the digital world performs this substitution for me.  I wake up in the morning and pick up the phone to check the time. This quickly substituted with “What did I miss while sleeping?”. Sometimes a lookup for something on internet and answer is almost immediately there, but I start drifting away, reading stories, looking at the pictures, etc. Time starts slipping away.

Tristan Harris, executive director of the Center for Humane Technology, argues that the digital
services we use often perform this substitution for us. Imagine, says Harris, a group of friends on a
night out, trying to figure out where they can go to keep the conversation flowing. They turn to
their phones for a recommendation and find themselves gawping at images of cocktails on
The phones, says Harris, replace the question, “Where can we go to keep talking?” with, “What’s a
bar with good photos of cocktails?” Phones simply do not suggest options such as going back to
someone’s apartment or strolling along the waterfront.
This happens all the time, and we often don’t notice the substitution. Looking for love, we swipe
through faces on Tinder rather than searching for local clubs or volunteering activities. Picking up
a phone to check the time in the morning, the question “What’s the time?” is quickly substituted
with, “What did I miss while sleeping”?

Sometimes I look up something on the internet and the answer almost immediately available, I am drifting away looking for pictures, reading other related articles, while the time is slipping away.

Trying to get some work done with an internet enabled device is like trying to lose weight by running every day and yet overindulging with deserts, soda drinks and other food outside of the gym. Unpredictable treats are highly addictive just like email, social media or clickbait headlines. This is the drain on the time but money as well with spontaneous purchases.

My personal solution is to create friction. I bought paper dictionaries to look up for words, set outlook to offline mode and only update it when a chunk of work is done and check it at specific time intervals.  It was astonishing to me once I go offline how many time in an hour I reflexively check messages, updates, thinking about doing some online.

Sherry Turkle, the author of Reclaiming Conversation (2015), has found that people initially used texts as an add-on to face-to-face conversation, but the texts soon became a substitute: more convenient, more controllable.  The problem with real conversation, one high-school senior told her, was that “it takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say”.

Traveling around the world, sometimes being in the middle of no-where I realized that a lot of companies start using it to manage appalling conditions.  People would tolerate worse living conditions, food, the absence of places of exercise if there is a fast and reliable internet connection. You can buy a smartphone, contract-free for $40 USD.
This temptation to rejoin the digital world will always be there, the influx of destructions will push you back into connecting with your phone, tablet, computer permanently and going online.  It is a conscious decision to be in control over your time and claw back the calm.

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