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Suresh Menon: the pursuit of laziness

Our columnist believes laziness is the mother of all inventions

Suresh Menon
30 May 2016 | 01:58 pm

Last week I joined an inclusive club. It includes people who are lazy and therefore inventive. It includes people who work because they are too lazy to be lazy.

But first, some background. My teacher in school had a theory that if there was a job to be done, give it to the laziest person around; he would find the shortest (and quickest) way to do it and get back to being lazy. As you can imagine, I was kept very busy in school.

Later I had a theory (self-serving, admittedly) that all our great inventions were the result of laziness. That wonderful human quality has never been given the credit for the invention of the wheel or construction of bridges or the computer. Too lazy to walk, man invented the wheel, too lazy to travel around a body of water, he built bridges and so on. Dissatisfaction is not at the root of all progress, sheer laziness is.

‘I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention,’ Agatha Christie once said. ‘Invention arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness – to save oneself trouble.’ It was one of the most insightful things she ever wrote, next only to ‘the butler did it.’

Fast forward to last week. I was writing a piece on the mathematician Ramanujan, and recalled a quote from his biography by Robert Kanigel (the book on which the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity is based). In the old days (i.e. before last week), I would have walked over to my bookshelf, pulled out the book and flipped through its pages to get the quote. Simple, effective, and healthy too, given the sedentary nature of the writing job.

This time – and I blush as I write this – my natural laziness asserted itself, and I did something I had never done before. I downloaded the book on my Kindle, and saved myself a walk. Within minutes I had the book, the quote I wanted, and could continue writing without a break. I tried telling myself that this was it actually – to be able to write without having to get up and find the book – but you know as well as I do how thin that sounds.

I have been told about people who buy a ticket for a sporting event and then watch it on their phones while seated in the stadium. It is like watching a sunrise on television rather than bother to step outside. I had become one of them.

The lazy may not inherit the earth, but they’ll give the meek a run for their money. Or at least a walk over a bridge.

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Suresh Menon

Suresh Menon

is a writer based in India. In his youth he set out to change the world but later decided to leave it as it is.