More Thoughts on Opportunity Cost

Last night’s post on opportunity cost missed the point. Technology doesn’t create or increase opportunity cost. Our technology makes us hyperaware of opportunity costs in real time.

Last night’s post dwelt a bit too much on the fear of missing out on social things — trip to the beach, dinner at a restaurant. Guess I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. For me, this isn’t about social anxiety or jealousy. It is about how I manage the information flood.


  • every minute spent on Facebook on my smartphone while standing in a room with people is a moment not spent talking to people standing with me
  • following comments and links of professional interest on Twitter limits the time I can spend doing the same on RSS feeds, Zite and
  • writing a blog post means fewer minutes reading that great book
  • catching up on email during a few unbusy moments means having fewer unbusy moments to reflect and see what’s happening around me

You get the idea. The point isn’t that these things are bad. The point is that it is getting more difficult to decide how to spend/not spend my time. I can’t escape the choices.

The choices aren’t new. They have always been with us. Now, we get to see opportunity cost up front. It isn’t so invisible. That is why so many people, self included, find the Social Media/Information Age a bit overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. I haven’t yet mastered the skill of disciplined focus. I haven’t yet mastered the skill of opportunity selection.

These are the skills we need to survive and succeed.

Getting Comfortable with Opportunity Cost

There is a particular kind of anxiety that can come with being Constantly Connected. Natalie Houston describes it well in her Prof Hacker post “Are You Missing Out?” in which Houston explores the anguish du jour: Fear of Missing Out.

I get it.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, and Pinterest make us instantly aware of what our friends are doing right this moment. That’s kinda nice. The downside: being constantly aware of what my friend are doing becomes constant awareness of what I’m not doing. I’m not at the beach. I’m not at the concert. I’m not eating at the restaurant. More interesting than this petty jealousy is the resulting compulsion to share the trivia of my life so I can participate in the What I’m Doing machine.

Nothing wrong with this in doses. Unchecked, it can make a person neurotic.

Which brings me right around to something I’ve been wrestling with lately. With iPad, iPhone, iPod and social media, I have superhuman powers to communicate, participate and share with the entire world. Literally. I am more well-informed and better positioned to have real influence than ever before. Because of this reach, I am being stretched in more directions than ever before.

I can see for miles in every direction but can’t always seem to easily focus where my attention is most needed. Focus takes effort.

Focus, I think, will become the defining trait of personal and professional success in my years ahead. Time to start practicing the art of applied vision, truly seeing where I look. This is the principle of opportunity cost. Every accepted opportunity limits the ability to pursue another, different opportunity. Our reach is not infinite. I can’t do everything. Time to stop thinking so much about what I am going to do and start marking the harder, more rewarding choices about what I am going to intentionally miss out on.