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The Inconvenience of Convenience

January 15, 2013

In American History, (at least when I took it), there are all sorts of labels given to different eras. There is the “Era of Good Feelings,” the “Industrial Age,” “The Age of Reason,” “The Good Old Days,” and the “Space Age.” However, no one has yet come up with a good moniker for our age. I suggest the “Age of Convenience.” For it is convenience that is the defining quality of our culture today.

We Americans live in a culture of astounding technological advancement. This advancement is not all bad. We have modern transportation instead of the horse-and-buggy, modern power sources instead of coal, and modern dentistry, for which we should thank the Lord daily. But along with the merely physical changes that technological progress has brought us, there have been metaphysical changes as well. The advent of technology has brought along with it a mindset that prizes instant gratification and comfort over hard work and sacrifice. The ethos of convenience, while not a direct result of our technological opulence, is certainly facilitated by it.

There is an unspoken law in our society that inconvenience must be avoided. We spend hundreds upon thousands of dollars making sure that everything is convenient enough. The couch is too hard? Buy another one? The computer takes too long to load? Time for an upgrade. It takes ten minutes to warm up a cup of coffee? That’s not quick enough. The convenient society wants it all, and it wants it now. The message that we get from the advertisers is that nothing should be hard for us, that we have a right to everything being easy. This is why we see advertisements online promoting instant weight-loss, effortless language learning, and hassle-free dating. It is the culture of “I want it now, on my terms.” Convenience is the very air we breath.

But there is a funny thing about conveniences. Trying to live a life of convenience actually makes life more inconvenient. To someone who is used to living a hard life, the small things of life are just that–small things. But to someone interested in a convenient life, every task takes on Herculean significance. A hard-working man, a farmer or an oil-rig worker, gets up before dawn to do his tasks regularly. But the convenient boy of today can barely crawl out of bed to hit the snooze button on the alarm. A person used to manual labor is not likely to shirk the task of making a ham sandwich. But the “man of convenience” sits on the couch with a bag of Doritos. Teddy Roosevelt read Anna Karenina while floating down an African river, and was the author of several books. But those of us in the convenient age can barely read anything beyond Facebook statuses, and are the authors of several text messages, usually along the lines of “wassup?” My generation seems to have trouble with performing the simplest tasks. We may be entering a time when young adults who are proficient at napping, Twittering, and playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II will have trouble boiling water. 

These conveniences that we think make our lives easier actually drain our lives until they are bloodless and hollow. We tell ourselves that they are normal, but in fact, they are not–they are Western innovations that were only made possible by hard work from others. There is no such thing as a “free lunch,” much less a free 24-hour all-you-can eat buffet. It is from the nightmare of convenience, the illusion of comfort, that we must awake.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2013 10:00 pm

    Theodore Roosevelt read Anna Karenina while he was on a river raft in pursuit of a cattle thief during his days as a cowboy and rancher. Your mistake was the result of a life of scholarly ease and neglect. See the first volume of Edmund Morris’ biography of Roosevelt.

    • January 16, 2013 6:07 pm

      True. I do remember a story about him reading a book while on safari. Is that just a figment of my diseased imagination (no doubt corrupted by endless hours of sitting on the couch with an Xbox controller in my hand and a bag of Doritos on my lap) or is it a true story?

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