Deep Work Is Rare

In the era of open offices at Facebook and Twitter, instant messaging, emails, push for people to maintain a social media presence, it is becoming increasingly harder for skilled workers to focus and work deeply.

This presents a contradiction given the information in the previous section - that deep work is valuable.

In the industrial era, people had matrices to evaluate performance and speed of the production as well as employees. There were objective tools and methods. With knowledge workers in the information economy, this is no longer true, though scientists have H-index to measure their performance.

In such a scenario, workers fall back to the industrial era of measurements - do more work, visibly. This approach no longer works, but is supported by the principle of least resistance. The principle states:

In the absence of clear feedback to the bottom line, people will tend towards behaviours that are the easiest in the moment.

Thus, workers try to “appear” busy because they don’t know of other clear ways to demonstrate their productivity. This pushes them to send more emails & chat messages, memos, write more lines of code etc.

There is a cult of Internet people who say it is the source of wisdom and everyone must catch up with the Internet. Serious reporters are required to post shallow content on their Twitter profiles. This behaviour of expectation can be explained by what Neil Postman had said: that we are sliding into an unhealthy relationship with technology where we don’t measure trade-offs. Since there is no clear way to measure how much exactly those tweets helped and the society being Internet-centric, such behaviours are tolerated at the cost of attention.

If the narrative presented above is true, it is good for you because deep work is getting rarer and at the same time, more valuable.

Follow up: Deep Work Summary Part 3 (Deep Work Is Meaningful)