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A Few Words

Productivity And Convenience:
An Irreconcilable Relationship

(or, Where Has All Our Time Gone?)

Wake up and smell the coffee. It's already brewed with my Krups 10-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker, reasonably priced from

Spin the shower knob. The water is already hot from my Paloma PH16FS Gas Hot Water Heater — one in each of five strategically planned household hot water zones. A great deal from

The computer auto-logon initiates its sequence at 7:15 AM, just as I step out from on my HoMedics BubbleSpa Massaging Bath Mat BMAT-4, available from, to the Foot Soother Elite Massager, a great deal at any price on

By the time I get in front of the NEC MultiSync LCD1920NX-Black 19-inch XtraView 1280x1024 space saving display, available from, all the night's emails are downloaded and ready for checking. Plus it's Energy Star. For an extra $8 per month, I get a better-than-T1 connection through my CharterOnline cable modem.

At 7:43 AM I click the Amenity Pro-Start Remote Car Starter, available at Target. The seat temperature will auto-adjust.

At the same time, I pop a Hot Pockets Brand Bacon, Egg & Cheese frozen sandwich into the Panasonic Model NN-S963BF Microwave Oven, from 60 seconds later, "Scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese wrapped in a flaky, pastry crust" — ready to go. The flaky wrapped crust takes the place of forks and knives and other road hazards.

The 15 oz Stainless Steel Thermos Travel Mug ( keeps the remainder of the Chocolate Dutch Rum Coffee, from, sufficiently warm while I traverse the rugged freeway landscape. With my FastPass Express Lane Transponder.

A combination of productivity tools and convenience solutions free up enormous amounts of time in any given day. We can get more things done. We can get things done faster than our ancestors. We are organized. We are efficient. We are calculators who can identify predictable, inefficient patterns and rectify them instantly. We are productivity machines, better oiled with each new technological generation.

Everywhere, this is the mantra. On television, in print, on the radio, on the freeway, in the grocery store — the speed with which we can accomplish our lives seems to be directly proportional to the quantity of freedoms that we can enjoy. Our pace is a yardstick that we can use to measure how much further we have advanced over our past generations.

Productivity tools free up our time. Convenience products squeeze the mundane details of our lives into the smallest possible units. With this, we are the creators of all the time in the world.

An example: In the digital enterprise, we aim to implement the most productive software and hardware tools available. Microsoft sells us on its NT solutions, to be replaced a short generation later with 2000, to be replaced a short generation later with XP, to be replaced (maybe) with Longhorn. Each has new, faster, better, slicker, more efficient tools to get us through the day and get our jobs done better than we did them in the previous generation.

Linux (perhaps) aims to dislodge Microsoft's dominance. Open source developers look for the killer app, the indispensable software that will push productivity over the next edge before the next competitor can implement it too. Will it be Ximian? Can Evolution measure up? Is it a Mozilla project? Apache? Any of them might be the one that inspires the other shoe to drop.

The proliferation of digital productivity tools available all aim to get us to do a better job faster. We should be able to organize our emails easier — maybe a database and a filesystem can give birth to a productivity revolution? An upgraded laser printer buys me an additional page per minute, which buys me 3 to 5 minutes a day. A high-speed T1 (or faster) Internet connection buys me 8 to 10 minutes a day. Spell check eliminates the need to heave a dictionary around — what a boon. Auto-response keeps everyone up to date about which office I'm using and where I can be reached for immediate needs. PDAs auto-cross-reference people with places with a calendar with scheduling conflicts and the dietary needs of power lunches. Even the "6-Second Abs" DVD keeps me from having to go to the gym.

All of these productivity tools aim to save my time. So do convenience products.

Convenience foods and drive-thrus keep me on the run so I can get done sooner. Campbell's soup in a cardboard cup, Wendy's square-of-beef burger and a Frosty — eliminate the need to cook and clean up. Audio books in the car substitute for the time that I can't seem to find to sit down and read. Correspondence courses substitute for having to attend class — the hours saved in looking for parking are countless. Jiffy Lube gets me in and out in 30 minutes. ATM — no need to stand in line and risk robbery. TiVo — I don't need to be home at a particular time to watch the best shows. Paper towels pre-soaked in Lysol. The Fast Trak. Carpool lanes.

But wait (if you have the time to wait that is). Shouldn't the productivity tools render the conveniences moot? If I get my work done so incredibly fast and so incredibly efficiently, doesn't that mean that I have more time to spend on the rest of my life? If so, then what is the point of trying to speed up that rest-of-my-life too? For what else am I making time?

I already ate. I already worked out. I already reached out and touched all my friends. I did my shopping. I listened to the news and a book in the car. All the details are wrapped up.

So what now? What are we all doing with our lives that we need to work at break-neck speed in order to free up enough time to squeeze life's details to zero.

Pause. Really: what is left that we might do slowly, that we might savor. The marketing-machines-that-be tell us through every medium and square inch that they can find that every task, from the most mundane to the most complex, is "done better when done faster." From getting a mortgage to wiping your baby's butt, the sooner the task is complete....

I'm not sure. I can no longer discern why I'm supposed to hurry constantly. And I can't figure out why the relentless pace of life has not abated with all the world's productivity solutions and convenience products.

One would think that with all the time that we're said to have saved, we must be the best-read, most educated, most socially integrated and active generation in the history of humanity.

Are we?

Then why can't we seem to see the simple irreconcilable tension between the possible results of productivity and the perceived need for convenience.

How far have we really come, beyond speeding up our own exploitation?

© 2004 Sorrell