Connection's cost: 'Gig economy' shapes work, personal life
We live in a world that's so plentiful, it’s scarce. We only have so much time and money, with millions of ways to spend it. We have access to pretty much everything and everyone in the world, so how are we supposed to decide among them?
Modern life is a balancing act between our career, hobbies, social life, family, personal health and whatever else we find important. It’s a constant trade-off. Every hour we spend with our friends is an hour we could’ve been studying, and every hour we were studying is one we could’ve been working out, and so on and so on. Every choice we make carries the weight of all the possible choices we could have made instead.
Economists call this sacrifice an “opportunity cost.” If we're trying to decide what to spend our resources on, they consider whether the value of the choice outweighs the opportunity cost.
We have always assigned value to everything in our lives based on a lot of factors: the joy it brings us, how difficult it was to attain or what its monetary worth is. The value of an object, an experience or even a relationship determines how much of our resources we dedicate toward it. It’s fairly straightforward: We invest more in things we care about and less in things we don’t.
The problem that seems to be emerging, though, is that there's just too much that we care about. Our time is our most scarce resource, and we have no idea how to allocate it among everything begging for our attention.
But there is a way to circumvent this issue, another resource that solves this problem: money. If there's something that we need to get done and is valuable to us, but we don’t have the time to do it ourselves, we pay someone else. Personal value is incredibly easy to translate into monetary value. We just decide how important something is to us and how much we're willing to pay for it.
It didn’t take long for people to capitalize on this. The rise of companies such as Uber, Postmates and TaskRabbit are example enough. There were tasks that people found valuable enough to get done, but not so much to do it themselves, so once a price tag was slapped on, it was easy money. Now that people are ever-so aware of the value of their day to day activities — not only to themselves, but also to other people — new ways to make money are popping up all over the place.
Instagram influencers realized that the attention they got was valuable not only to themselves, but also to companies who needed advertising. Everything is a resource and everything is an asset, and that allowed our personal lives to slowly mesh with our business ones.
Unfortunately, this sort of transactional behavior extends far past the interactions of strangers. Everything has an alternative, and everything has an opportunity cost. We're constantly analyzing our decisions to make sure that they're the most optimal, even in personal relationships.
Why do you spend time with certain people? Sure, right now they’re people that you probably have a deep emotional attachment too, but in the beginning? How did you choose your friends? What made you think that they were worth your time? Chances are they aren’t random people that you just happen to like.
Especially in the beginning, they provided you with something that you found valuable, be it social status, interesting conversations or help studying. Something about their presence was valuable enough for you to choose them over other people and other activities. There are plenty of people who didn’t make the cut and who you decided weren’t worth your time.
This trade-off exists in everything we do, and there really is no way to get rid of it. As long as we're making choices, we have to decide what holds more value. We have to view everything through the lens of its opportunity cost. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t maintain our humanity. We have to remember that people are people first and that not everything in our lives needs to be the best possible version. We're allowed to make decisions that might not be the most beneficial to us and we're allowed to act without thinking.