Thursday, April 24, 2008

Increasing Returns and Life

A few days ago Arnold Kling applied the law of diminishing returns to everyday life. In other words, he explained how doing the same things get boring and where in our life can we avoid this trap.

According to Kling, people do it an awful lot. They read books by the same author. They stay forever in the same organization. They're hesitant to change jobs. On a personal note, the only fiction my mom seems to read are murder mysteries and I sometimes wonder if she ever gets bored with them or can guess the guilty sooner.

Yet we also have to recognize there are increasing returns. If what you experienced in initial consumption can be carried forth (in part) to future consumption, then the time time you engage in that activity, your change in satisfaction can higher than what it was before. For example, the first time you tell a joke won't be as good as the second time. The learning experience you gained from the first time enhances your telling for the next time. You might be a little bored of the joke because it's in your recent memory, but the smoothness of the execution of the punchline more than makes up for it. But it doesn't have to be educational in nature. A little bit of the drama carries from experience to experience. Similar experiences can enhance each other (which is why there are so many people who throw themselves into a TV show).

The same could be said in other areas people specialize in, such as their job, a discipline, or a sport. You can think of it as going to the same amusement park each day in a week. Each time you experience another part of it, but can also avoid the costs of constantly learning how to navigate its paths. Obviously, this can't last forever (not even academics think in terms of the discipline every waking hour) but it does suggest that dabblers may well be served to throw themselves into a discipline instead of constantly moving about. And perhaps it's worth it to visit the Louvre twice in the same visit to Paris--you're surely discover great things most people don't notice.


Anonymous said...

I once asked her and no she can't. I suggested she try writing a mystery and she doesn't want to do that either.

As for reading books by the same author, I think the returns depend on the quality of books. I'm reading a series of books by the same author in the same fictional world and I do see the increasing returns as the pieces of a large puzzle fall into place.


David said...

Fair enough, though arguably you're just reading one really long book. It's hard to tell.

Anonymous said...

Well what about watching more than one episode in a TV series? Is it one long episode divided into parts?