July 27, 2018

Productivity, real salaries, employment rates, GDP should consider the increased consumption of distractions during work hours

Sir, Erik Brynjolfsson (and Andrew McAfee) writes: “If machine learning is already superhuman, why did we not see it in productivity statistics earlier? The answer is that its breakthroughs haven’t yet had time to deeply change how work gets done” “Machine learning will be the engine of global growth” July 27.

That is true, but we also need to realize that we have not done yet measured the effect of all the increased consumption of distractions during working hours.

In Bank of England’s “bankunderground" blog we recently read: “With the rise of smartphones in particular, the amount of stimuli competing for our attention throughout the day has exploded... we are more distracted than ever as a result of the battle for our attention. One study, for example, finds that we are distracted nearly 50% of the time.”

And on a recent visit to a major shop in the Washington area, thinking about it, I noticed that 8 out of the 11 attendants I saw were busy with some type of activity on their cellphones, and I seriously suspect they were not just checking inventories.

The impact of that on productivity, with less effective working time is being put into production, could be huge.

Also, going from for instance a 10% to a 50% distraction signifies de facto that full time or paid by the hour employee’s real salaries have increased fabulously.

And what about the real employment rate if we deduct the hours engaged in distractions? A statistical nightmare? Will we ever be able to compare apples with apples again?

And how should all these working hours consumed with distractions be considered in the GDP figures?