Efficiency and Civilisation

Restructuring economic and social relations around the temporal value of efficiency has the effect of making all relations instrumental to productive outputs. Everything and the activity of every being becomes a means to optimize productive potential. But would we ever really treat someone we really care for in an efficient manner? Would we express our love and affection and extend our warmth and attention by maximizing our output in the minimum amount of time, with the minimum expenditure of labor, energy, and personal capital? Can one experience true intimacy or joy efficiently? Is it possible to deeply empathize with another being in a highly efficient way? Turning relationships into efficient means to advance productive ends destroys the empathic spirit.

In the 1980s and 1990s psychologists and educators introduced the notion of “quality time” into family relations. The idea was for parents to set aside a few minutes in their otherwise over-burdened and busy days to get back “in touch” with their children. The forced efficiency of these structured intimate encounters often defeated the purpose of the exercise. Deep relationships require nurturing and suffer when yoked to the dictates of the clock.

The almost pathological obsession with efficiency in the modern era reflects an underlying fear of the death and the hope that time can be saved and one’s duration on Earth continually extended into the future. Anyone who has ever engaged a hyper-efficient personality can almost smell the fear. Getting close to such a person becomes nearly impossible.

– Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilisation, pg 166-167

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