Efficiency, Impact and Beauty

(If you’re not academically inclined, skim over the next paragraph. I accidentally climbed on my soapbox a bit)

Reading through my Twitter timeline, I regularly encounter tirades against the rating system in academic circles, particularly the impact factors of journals. Everybody wants to publish in high-impact journals (how do you get to be a high impact journal? By publishing articles that everybody else will cite), so it becomes a monster eating it’s own tail, a vicious circle. Everybody running around trying to get published in the right place instead of doing good research. Quality and utility should stand out and find its way to the right place – a piece of excellent research should be published in an accessible place. That’s the point of the research, to build knowledge, to expand understanding. It’s hardly building knowledge if nobody knows about it, or nobody can get to it because its behind a pay wall 7 feet high. So impact factors generally probably show you how good the editor is at sniffing out good, or at least interesting, research that sparks debate and further research (and hence many citations), but that doesn’t mean a particular article is any good just because it appears in that journal. That old problem of statistics applying to populations, not individuals.

In everyday life we chase efficiency the way researchers chase impact factors. Or at least, I do. Washing machine – on. Dishwasher – on. Tumble dryer – on. Wait, would it be better to hang the washing outside? It will probably rain or I will forget to bring it in before the dew sets in, so no, that’s not efficient, tumbler dryer it is. (I realise I am supposed to call it the drier, but I grew up calling it the Tumble Dryer, and it’s stuck in my head now.) Take something up the stairs with you if you need to go up the stairs to fetch something. Plan everything. Back-up plan everything. No spontaneity, only efficiency. The more efficient I am, the more stuff I will get done, and the more people will look at me and go “wow, look at how efficient she is.” and that’s the real reason we do everything, isn’t it? So people can look at us and see how much stuff we do. ‘Cos that just invigorates the soul.

Not.

I’m all for efficiency in getting mundane things done, but don’t efficient the beauty out of life. The moments I live for are not those when I have all of my white goods running and the clothes all folded in the cupboard (although there is a certain smugness that comes), nor the days when I manage to complete every job on my to-do list, because if I judged success by those standards I would always fail. The moments I live for are the ones where efficiency has been put to one side, and I can simply embrace the beauty of being. I am happiest when I can put the task to one size and seize this one moment, and live it with every part of my being. Yesterday’s moment was jumping on the trampoline with Little Person and creating an impromptu song-and-dance routine to a Mango Groove song that I sang so badly nobody would recognise it. I would say choreograph, but that implies way more thought than what we put into it. Yesterday’s moment was also the way Little Person talked about that experience at the dinner table with The Dude.

Beautiful moments. You live them, you discover them, but it’s really difficult to efficient them up.

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