NOTE ON PRODUCTIVITY

Tobi Lawson
4 min readAug 26, 2019

I recently read a short essay in the Harvard Business Review that prompted me to ask some questions about how we think about productivity. The essay strikes a now familiar tone about the incessant intrusion of mobile technology into our lives. Recent innovations in app development have made it possible for us to stay online or connected to our work all the time. People are now talking openly about the ill effects of this and how it might be necessary to be unproductive. In an episode of The Ezra Klein Show podcast, Nir Eyal, author of the product development book “Hooked” talked about how even companies built around productivity tech like Slack always encourage their employees to take time off and “unplug”. Ezra Klein admitted to being infuriated by this idea. I mean how can people who make products that get people addicted to their phones not indulge in their creation? I’m sure there is a useful debate about how people use tech products. But I want to comment on a general confusion laypeople might have about productivity.

My argument is that app development companies have substituted activity for productivity in our consciousness. Economists measure productivity in terms of wages or earnings growth. In the old economy where manufacturing was king, this is quite easy to see. Suppose you run a car-making factory, and your output is about 100 cars per week. Let us assume further that this output level is the…

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