Opportunity cost

Our wonderful, complex, modern world provides myriad opportunities. And so, of course, it presents us with many thousands of choices to make, and just as many opportunity costs. Unlike 99% of everyone who ever lived on this planet, you can take a glowing rectangle out of your pocket, tap it a few times, and have food delivered to your home within a day or two. We should pause to notice just how astonishingly wonderful this is. But we should notice too the opportunity costs. For example, barring a zombie apocalypse, most of the people reading this post will never learn to hunt their own dinner. OK, maybe that’s not important to you, but it is an opportunity cost.

We live in a culture driven by advertising, and so we are told over and over that we can have it all. This is a lie. There is always an opportunity cost.

Do you prefer not to be insulted, or otherwise have your feelings hurt? Then you had better not hope for fame.

Do you hope to earn lots of money? Then you better not value leisure above hard work.

Do you care deeply about the environment? Then you had better get used to being cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and wet on your long walks into town.

Do you love novelty, going from one thing to the next? Then you must reconcile yourself to the fact that you will never become a true expert on one thing.

The glorious developments in technology over the last hundred years mean we often need to make such choices — between competing opportunities — on a much more frequent basis. Last week, Nick and I were on holiday in Spain. One day, lying on the beach, I reached into my bag and pulled out a battered old Kindle. Almost all my books are electronic these days, and about half of them are loaded on my Kindle. I had finished my previous book, and so I was confronted with a choice of a dozen books I’ve not yet read, or to re-read one from a list of about 300. As it happened, I picked a non-fiction book and as I started to read, I wanted to make notes. I don’t find the kindle very user-friendly for highlighting and annotating passages. A couple of days later, therefore, I was lying on the beach again with the same book loaded on my iPhone. The beach was quiet, the weather perfect, the sea lapping in gently susurrating waves. The perfect conditions to concentrate. And so I reached into my bag, pulled out my iPhone, and checked Twitter.

This is why, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we need to make rules for ourselves, now more than ever.

This is why, occasionally, I take a break from social media.

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