mnmlist: the price of convenience

If there is one direction modern society has been moving in during the last century, it is convenience. That pretty much sums up the last 100 years or so: washers & dryers, cars, airplanes, TVs, microwaves, personal computers and the Internet revolution, fast food, agribusinesses, frozen food, dishwashers, machines and modernizations of any kind.

We’re a society of conveniences, more than anything else. But at what price?

The global warming crisis, for example, has been entirely caused by conveniences, and the solution, many say, must be just as convenient as the problem: electric cars, clean energy, smart homes, organic convenience foods. I’m not entirely convinced — I think we’re going to need to rethink our love of conveniences.

The obesity epidemic has also been caused by conveniences: fast food and microwaveable meals and food that has been processed and artificially flavored so eating takes so little work that we do it in huge amounts. The solution, for many, must also be convenient — they don’t want to cook their own meals or put in hours of exercise. They want fast but healthy meals that are ready instantly, exercise that can be done in a few minutes or that feels easy, pills and surgery that solve our fat problems. My thinking is that exercise is and should be hard work — hard but fun. Cooking healthy meals takes a little time, but it should be enjoyable and mindful cooking and eating.

Cars are wonderfully convenient, except when they aren’t: hefty monthly payments, taking time for maintenance and cleaning and fueling, breaking down in the middle of the highway or not starting or getting a flat tire, getting road rage when stuck in rush hour traffic, circling the block to look for parking, and so on. The cost of that convenience, of course, is our health and our environment — small prices to pay, perhaps.

Convenience always comes with hidden costs, when you look at the whole picture. Sometimes that cost is to the Third World, or to the environment, or to our own future, but hey, that’s Somebody Else’s Problem (SEP).

I once said we should unautomate, and it’s a thought that we should come back to often. It’s inconvenient to hang dry clothes, but it’s also pleasant and sustainable. Having a small home garden is not as convenient as relying on agribusiness, and yet it’s worth the price of inconvenience. Walking, biking, and taking mass transit isn’t so convenient, but it’s much more enjoyable and sustainable than relying on cars.

What inconveniences can we incorporate into our daily lives that would be rewarding in many ways? I don’t have the answers, only the question.