Has technology actually made our lives easier and more productive, or has it led to an overall slump in productivity?
According to a recent New York Times article, productivity in the U.S. has definitely been on the decline in recent years. From 1995 to 2004, labor productivity increased by 2.8%; from 2005 to 2014, labor productivity only increased by 1.8%.
Although it’s still a positive percentage increase, the article notes, the addition of so much new technology into our daily lives would lead one to believe that productivity would have increased at a much higher rate.
According to new research published at the Brookings Institute, the new technology added to Americans’ daily lives has been primarily for entertainment purposes rather than productivity purposes.
After the economic slump in 2007-2008, say economists David Byrne, John Femald, and Marshall Reinsdorf, the country’s productivity was naturally thrown off course. In some ways, workers were forced to become more productive as companies laid off more of the American workforce and job responsibilities increased. In other ways, productivity decreased because overall loyalty and dedication to one company became the exception for the workforce rather than the norm.
As new technology, like mobile devices and wearable technology, began to hit markets, it was expected that the new convenience fostered by the technology would offset downsized businesses.
Instead, it seems that the opposite effect may have occurred.
Some technology, like the widespread use and access of social media sites, has been beneficial for entertainment purposes without providing many ways to improve job efficiency.
In other cases, technology made it possible for people to work around the clock, leading to an overworked and underpaid labor force. Smartphones, for example, allow employees to continue working after they’ve left the office. Checking one’s email before bed, or working late into the night on a presentation for the following day, have become normal habits for many people. It comes as no surprise that at least one in four American workers likely has insomnia.
And insomnia is not cheap. Studies suggest that a workforce where 25% of employees have insomnia leads to a decrease in productivity so severe that American businesses lose around $63 billion every year in lost productivity.
Perhaps the introduction of new technology has created the potential for more efficiency. People, however, are not necessarily able to evolve as quickly as new technology. At some point along the way, the process became entirely focused on numbers without recognizing that the underlying motivations of working efficiently have been neglected.