“I’m lazy. But it’s the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn’t like walking or carrying things. – Lech Walesa”
Though it has been a driver of innovation, laziness is endemic to the human species. Why are people so lazy?
Have you ever been in a restaurant with friends over dinner when someone starts talking about a movie, but the name is right on the tip of their tongue? Then, everyone starts chiming in to figure out the name of the movie?
“Was it that actor? Yeah I remember he was in that other movie too?”
“Yeah, yeah. The one with the dog and the old scooter.”
“Uh huh, I think De Niro was in that one too, he was the dad.”
Slowly but surely, through the conversation and some educated guessing, you all eventually worked it out?
Congratulations, because not only did you guys demonstrate great teamwork, you also successfully exercised your problem solving skills.
As they like to say today, nobody’s got time for that. Because all you need now is Google.
This begs the question, can our social and cultural environment foster lazy thinking?
Social media and the internet are amazing technological breakthroughs. However, their dangerous side effects are well documented. Ex-Facebook president Sean Parker spoke about how the site was made to “exploit a vulnerability in human psychology”. The addiction and forced dependency from these modern contrivances have stripped us from our sense of self control and thinking.
There are two modes of thinking, as explained by psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast And Slow”.
We only have so much brain power. To respond faster and more efficiently to the multiple demands of daily life, our brain toggles between slow and fast thinking.
For instance, if I’m walking down the street, I don’t stop to think about putting my right foot in front of my left foot and vice versa. It’s all second nature and a part of what should already be fast thinking to me.
Now if I was a toddler and learning how to walk, I’d probably have to exercise slower thinking and really focus on my motions as I’m learning the basic steps. Once I’ve mastered walking, it then becomes wired into the fast thinking portion of my brain.
As someone who favors slow thinking, I can understand why people rather rely on fast thinking for most of their day to day decisions. Because I’m such a stickler for diet and nutrition, even the simplest of decisions like picking a meal from the menu ends up becoming such a mental exercise that I regularly suffer from decision fatigue. A lot of times where people resort to fast thinking, I instead have to go through a long thought out process of slow thinking.
In order to help myself better go about my day, I had to make adjustments to my routine and the environment. This includes preparing and cooking my own meals, and the odd time I’m out, you will mostly find me at the same restaurant or café having my regular.
However not everyone is willing to reconfigure their lives to make deliberate thoughts or decisions. It’s much easier to just leap to fast thinking, especially with the modern convenience that technology offers.
It’s not difficult to reason why people today are increasingly overweight or saddled with debt. With many of us already lacking basic financial literacy skills, inventions like credit cards and online shopping apps specifically target these vulnerabilities, causing us to overeat and overspend.
With everything at the touch of a button, people hardly bother to educate themselves about rollovers, minimum payments and budgeting. When was the last time you tried to count your calories or even tracked your spending?
We have become so lazy and conditioned to modern day conveniences that we have lost the ability to think critically. American economist Richard Thaler detailed the importance of choice architecture. He explains how if used carefully and structured appropriately with good intentions, our environment and technology can help guide us into making decisions for our overall benefit.
While this is a heartening takeaway, it also unfortunately reveals how today, the tail has come to wag the dog. Admittedly, we need help navigating an increasingly complex world, but technology is no more than a mental crutch.
However, I do believe the right to think slowly and critically is a personal freedom and choice. We should never surrender the most basic of freedoms, even if it means making faster or easier choices.