Why are we feeling so Overwhelmed?
This is the Age of Overwhelm. Right from routine everyday tasks to our professional work, we feel stressed and burdened with the sheer amount of effort it takes to complete them. No wonder Gen Zers and Millennials are experiencing burnout and are quitting their jobs in large numbers. Indeed, the Microsoft Work Trends Report 2021 puts this so-called The Great Resignation as affecting nearly half of the total workforce in the United States. Not only is this due to the Pandemic reorienting the priorities of workers and professionals worldwide and making them reevaluate what they want from work and life, this is also due to the increasing complexity, accelerating pace of life, and the lack of adequate returns commensurate with the time and effort spent at work.
What is Exponential Change and How Moore’s Law Explains the Age of Acceleration?
Let us first take the acceleration of contemporary life. As our gadgets become “smarter” and faster, keeping up with the speed of change is by itself a challenge. This is where Moore’s Law comes into the picture as a concept that can explain why everything is happening at a breakneck speed. Moore’s Law states that the processing capacity of chips that power our Digital Age doubles every two years which means that our tech driven world speeds up the pace of change in exponentially accelerating ways. The key term here is “exponential” change wherein every two years, the power of technology doubles. So, two becomes four in two years, then becomes eight in another two years, sixteen by the end of the sixth year, and so on. This is the exponential acceleration that is making us breathless, just trying to keep up with it.
Of course, there is nothing bad about exponential change as long as humans have the cognitive ability to cope. However, most of us are still thinking in linear terms, which means that we are all being blinded by dizzying change. Moreover, our institution, laws, and other edifices of civilization are still not geared to deal with exponential change. In addition, even our brains are not yet evolved to move away from “fight or flight” impulses to absorbing the breakneck pace of change. So, to with, what our tech driven times have done is to blindside people into a never ending treadmill where each iteration leads to the next being faster than the previous one and which leads to Cognitive Dissonance just to maintain our footing.
What is the Law of Diminishing Returns and How a Double Whammy Is Hitting Us
Having said that, one can very well ask why younger professionals are bearing the brunt o these trends, more so when they are at an age where they are better equipped than those in their 40s and 50s to deal with exponential change. Moreover, Gen Zers and Millennials were born into a technology determined world and hence, ideally, they are better placed to deal with the acceleration of change. This is where we turn to the Law of Diminishing Returns. This economic tenet holds that over a period of time, the returns from capital and investment tend to diminish to the point where successive increases in inputs produce lesser outputs. In other words, more time and effort not to mention, investment and capital, have to be invested in getting decreasing yields from such expenditure. So, in effect, we need to work more to get the desired outcomes and that too something that diminishes with each cycle.
So, what we have now is an accelerating pace of change and diminishing returns from time and effort. This is the Double Whammy that is striking us hard and making us feel stressed and overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of our post modern lives. Of course, techno optimists might say that technological innovations spur increased gains thereby offsetting the diminishing returns of investments. In other words, those who swear by tech, like the Silicon Valley titans point to how innovations like the ones that drove the First Industrial Revolution and are now driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, obviate the diminishing returns. However, it is also a fact that Big Tech is now in so thrall of Capital that the gains from business are no longer percolating to the lower levels to justify the need for tech innovations.
The Perfect Storm of Problems That Threaten Our Tech Driven World
Indeed, taken together, the combined effect of the pandemic, accelerating change, diminishing returns, and neoliberal capitalism have created a Perfect Storm where the world overwhelms all, except the few who can afford it (literally and metaphorically) leading to skyrocketing suicide rates, record numbers quitting jobs en masse, and an overall sense of hopelessness. Unless there is a serious effort by our business and political leaders and elites to redress this problem of overwhelm that is driving society nuts, there would be no scope for any meaningful change as far as those not fortunate to reap the gains of the present times are concerned.
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