Is cognitive load a factor in community decline?

by ryan_b 1 min read7th Dec 20186 comments


This is speculation; I had the thought and then ran in to trouble disentangling the question I am trying to answer from other research on a different question, and also the sources I know about are not conveniently available to me. Ideally I can either get a swift negation or a line on the right kind of research to look at from here.

From here I get the notion that more effort is required per hour of work than was the case in the past. It's very long, but here's the part that piqued my interest:

So labour productivity growth in textiles came from a combination of “speed-up” and “stretch-out”, which is equivalent to “labour intensification” — making each worker exert more effort for every hour of work.
Clark (1987) notes that over the course of the 19th century the average Lancashire operative roughly doubled the number of machines tended, even as the speed of machines also increased. This higher workload makes it “unsafe to infer that the increase in output per worker resulted solely from technical progress”.
That view is powerfully supported by Bessen (2012), who estimates approximately 1/4 of the 50-fold increase in cloth output per worker-hour between 1800 and 1900 was due to each weaver simply operating more looms than they had done initially. That’s really big. But if you cut off the initial quantum leap from the hand loom (1800) to the power loom (1819) and consider only the mechanised era after 1819, the share of  the productivity growth due to greater exertion of effort is even bigger more than 60% !

From this Kathy Sierra talk I saw some months ago, I get the notion of total cognitive resources used during work. Combining these two suggests to me that the total cognitive resources used on the job have increased over time.

Finally I have been wondering about the decline of community in the United States these last few weeks. Referring to Putnam, it seems this has been pretty consistent since ~1965.

So what I am wondering is: did we cross some threshold around 1965 where the demands of work ate up the all cognitive resources we had available, so none were left for working in/on our community?

In pseudoerasmus' post the term "labor intensification" is used, but when I search for variations on labor intensity/ification, mostly what I get is the ratio of labor expenditures to capital expenditures. I also don't have access to Benson's paper, and while I am prepared to go around that lack of access I wanted to see if there was a publicly available body of work to check first.