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The Siren Call of Convenience

September 4, 2015

 

We Americans are proudly and hugely into our conveniences. We buy pre-washed lettuce and pre-cut chicken pieces because it's more convenient than washing our own vegetables or slicing up our own birds. We use our remotes because it's more convenient than getting up to change the channel. We navigate the drive-thru at Starbucks because it's more convenient than actually walking into a coffee shop. And we email the person in the cubicle next to us because who has the time for a conversation these days?

 

Entire technologies are built around the idea of convenience. Since our GIs returned from the rather massive inconvenience of fighting World War Two, we've been obsessed in sparing ourselves extra toil wherever possible. Remember TV dinners? In minutes, you could enjoy nicely diced chicken parts with presorted peas and carrots and a little peach cobbler on the side. Usually at least one of those things was still crunchy with ice on the inside, but who could complain? It seemed a small price to pay.

 

So why do we demand this unending cascade of convenience? The cynics might argue we're inherently lazy, propping ourselves up in our Barcaloungers like a generation of Jabba the Huts, waiting for life to be spoon fed to us (preferably pre-chewed). The more thoughtful might frame it differently. Convenience begets time saving.

 

Time, as famed psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out, is one of our most precious commodities. We can't renew it or restore it; we can only watch as it continually leaks away with the slow and steady drip of a desert canteen.

 

But do the cynics have a point? Even though I've stolen a few seconds by not traversing the living room floor to change the channel, or not getting out of the car to buy my coffee, what I am doing with my newfound bounty?

 

I—drum roll—am surfing the web. I've managed to scrimp and save my minutes only to blow my hard-won currency on a little Facebook, a little YouTube, chasing some bit of trivia or checking the latest poll data on "The Donald" and pondering the big questions. If, as The Donald has posited, 'Heidi Klum is no longer a ten,' then what number is she? (And what number does he think he is?)

 

Without vigilance and careful stewardship of my time (no small task given the strum and drang of daily life), I wouldn't be able to keep track of the important things. Where would we be without convenience

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