A loyal MR reader asks the following:
I'm a law student and am working in a litigation firm this summer. I have been quite disappointed how little energy I have for "high" culture when I get home from work. It's just so easy to watch Friends! I'm also a writer and was planning on working on several things this summer, but haven't really gotten started on anything yet. My real interest here is your schedule and will to avoid passive forms of entertainment. I would love to see a post (I'll take a reply) about how you manage to write your blog, work, visit restaurants, consume academic writing, literature, non-fiction and movies at what seems to me an amazing rate. I believe my time is better spent reading an academic article than playing snood, but don't you ever look down at the Journal of Law and Econ, and decide to watch the Paris Hilton True Hollywood Story instead? If I were completely rational I would read a couple books a day and a couple of newspapers, go to work, work out, and then watch a Nigerian film [sic] and hit the hay. I have the requisite curiosity, but I seem to not have the energy/time/will for it. What kind of planning goes into your day? Do you have no passive will to overcome? How can I work, write fiction and consume culture in a workable way? Is the problem the ten hour work day? I'm interested to hear about your schedule and your thoughts on overcoming a (hated) tendency towards passivity.
Tyler is out of the country, but Trudie's answer is simple...
The bigger question is whether time management is something you need to improve. The "Friends" part of your brain sounds quite fundamental, why tamper with it? Don’t think all that Bruckner stuff, or for that matter the Journal of Law and Economics, beats a good TV show. (Even Nigerian movies can be worse than Law and Order, believe it or not!) Cost-benefit analysis suggests that acceptance will come easier than change.
It sounds as if you are already an expert consumer, and indeed consumption is the ultimate goal of economic activity.
Being "completely rational" would be a high form of hell. Tyler tells me that his high levels of cultural consumption are his form of irrationality, not the contrary. And most of his activities are quite passive; he has never been in a kayak, refuses to go "natural diving," and surely blogging does not compare with building a software company or hunting a boar. Don’t confuse a restless nature with seizing life by the throat and living it to the fullest (although, of course, some people do both, including Tyler). In any case the key is to enjoy and indeed cultivate the irrationalities you have (indeed that is all you have), at least provided they do not become destructive vis-a-vis other people.
Trudie again thanks Tim Harford for pioneering the concept of economic advice; Tyler has added Tim’s website to the Interesting People roll on the left hand side of this blog.