Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Efficiency is the word

I’m terribly inefficient.

I realized this a few days ago when I looked through my sent mail. This semester, I’ve composed upwards of 1,600 e-mails. And in each one, I’ve dutifully signed my name and telephone number. That’s 11 extra keystrokes per e-mail for a grand total of 17,600 extraneous keystrokes.

If I’m ever diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, my doctor is going to look at me with scorn and sigh, “If only you’d used a signature.”

True. Were I efficient, I would have a cute little signature that would plaster itself on all my outgoing correspondence. There would be my name, maybe my address, perhaps even an inspirational quote to provide limitless amusement to those receiving it for the 18th time.

But my efficiency wouldn’t stop there. I would use an electronic address book in place of my current system of finding and replying to the last e-mail from my desired recipient. Life would be so much easier for me, not to mention for all those e-mail viruses that now die in my inbox because, to hear my address book tell it, I simply don’t have any friends worthy of receiving a special message expressing my love and requests a simple mouse click on a rather shady attachment.

In fairness, I’m not entirely inefficient. That last run-on sentence combined at least four potentially distinct statements into just one amalgamation — very efficient. Furthermore, I abandoned the practice of putting two spaces between my sentences years ago when I learned the computing community now eschews such gratuitous keystroking.

Did you know that? The spiffy word processors of today automatically adjust character spacing (it’s apparently called kerning) such that extra spaces are unnecessary, unprofessional, and — of course — inefficient.

You probably knew this. But I have friends (take that, address book!) who still insist on two spaces after periods or colons. The miracle of automatic kerning is no match for years of tutelage under teachers who adamantly adhered to the physical laws of the typewriter.

Our generation was born into the information age and has since witnessed, I believe, the coming of the age of efficiency. Confronted with information overload, we have had to struggle to organize and manage this information effectively — that is, efficiently.

I can still remember when my family had no answering machine. Today, an answering machine is just as important to societal acceptance as, well, clothing. In fact, the governor was recently lambasted for suggesting that homeless jobseekers should not have voice mail.

Now that answering machines are all but constitutionally mandated, the focus has shifted to cell phones. Germans call a cell phone a “Handy” because, evidently, the British kept talking about how “handy” their mobiles were until the descriptor stuck. But even that is now a virtual anachronism, since mobile phones are more than handy — they are increasingly essential to one’s very survival.

I don’t have a cell phone. This means for large blocks of the day I am entirely unreachable. In fact, the only possible way your cell phone could help you get in touch with me is if you were to hurl it in my general direction.

This, however, would be inefficient. And it makes me wonder sometimes: Is the world becoming too efficient? That’s actually not a very good question since efficiency, like money, is a pretty good thing. But just maybe the pursuit of efficiency, like greed, isn’t entirely desirable. The better question would be, therefore, whether the world is becoming too preoccupied with efficiency.

It’s tough to say. Humans have always been lazy; apparently, the question mark has its origins in an unwillingness to write out “questio” for every interrogative. Efficiency resulting from internal motivation is clearly beneficial; it allows us to make the most out of our time and to cut the corners that should have been rounded out years ago.

I see a danger, though, when absolute efficiency becomes an expectation, when employees are judged primarily on quantity and when Wall Street shuns a company not because it isn’t profitable, but because it isn’t profitable enough.

It is for this reason that I don’t expect to follow in the footsteps of Martha Stewart and take myself public anytime soon. The awful truth about my inefficiency would come out. And when someone tried to contact me for an explanation, they wouldn’t even be able to reach me. They’d have to leave a message. After the beep. And that beep takes two full seconds — very inefficient.

They’d best just lob their Handy at me.

Have a great summer.

Bryant Walker Smith ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in civil engineering.

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