Efficiency isn’t everything

On a recent trip to the UK, my arrival at Gatwick airport felt like going back to the future.

I live in a small, semi-rural town in Andalucia, Spain and the visible technology here is very much behind the times. In the town and local areas, that is.

In some bars and shops you have to pay in cash, they don’t even take cards. I’ve never seen anyone paying by scanning a phone and unless I’ve missed something, there are no supermarkets with the self-service scanners enabling you to check out and pay without human assistance. People are only just getting used to contactless payments.

Sometimes these things irritate me, especially in supermarkets. When you have previously got used to being able to get in and out much quicker, due to technological efficiency, it becomes annoying to have to queue. Particularly when standing behind people happily gassing away as if they have nowhere to go and no timetable to stick to.

But how lucky they are?! Stop for a chat. No rush. Good for them. If I had all the time in the world, this might be a delightful, social shopping experience.

Unfortunately, if you’re focused on getting things done and keeping on top of a busy workload, this time is merely being wasted. I try to adopt a Stoic outlook. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll accept it for what it is and make the best of it.

Sometimes, however, isn’t it the case that the ‘old ways’ are more efficient?

I’m sitting in my office and I’ve just received a parcel. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but it’s addressed to the shop next door. I am fortunate to be able to use the shop as a delivery address, which means I can pop out and not worry about missing the delivery. The thing is, in this small town setting, it’s almost always the same delivery man. He recognises my name. He knows me now.

He just stood outside and called through the window. I popped out and got the parcel. Mind you, he does have a digital device to record the transaction.

At the nearby petrol station, there is usually someone to fill up the tank for you. This doesn’t happen everywhere here, but it’s common. I can’t remember the last time I had someone else put petrol in my car in the UK.

At the local Carrefour hypermarket, it’s self-service and there is an option to pay at the pump (at 1 pump out of the 3). It’s also cheaper. And there are reward points to collect – hey it’s gamified! But it’s also in a soulless industrial estate on the edge of town, monitored by someone sitting in a high-security glass box.

I’m sure there’s a message in there somewhere…

Whenever I catch myself thinking too much about how technology is great and can (and has) made many of our lives more efficient, I remember the washing machine.

The invention of the washing machine meant that it became quicker and easier to wash clothes. So that would leave more leisure time, right? Well, no. It just meant that people were expected to be cleaner, not have any evidence of dirt on their clothes at all and so everyone just did more washing.

Technology can make tasks easier, but it doesn’t make our lives easier or happier. In fact, it often makes things more complicated, less safe and more stressful. And this is why we should be mindful of our relationship with it.

1 thought on “Efficiency isn’t everything”

  1. Personally, having just spent a year using communal campsite washing machines which take your money and soap powder, swish it all about for a few minutes but do very little cleaning, I’m looking forward to using some of the UK’s finest technology soon!
    It’s been interesting to see where Australia is in relation to the UK ref tech this year – it’s probably somewhere between there and rural Spain on the scale, which we were surprised about when we arrived but are used to now, particularly as we’ve slowed our pace of life down while we’ve been travelling. Definitely not complaining – except about the quality of the washing machines!

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