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Costly convenience and the deepening debt that follows

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Costly convenience and the deepening debt that follows

Written By Dylan Kersten, For The Globe

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The five-minute ten meter dash through register lines is reduced to a near sprint with the rise of self-checkout. A grocery run is reduced to a short walk to the front door and maybe a quick “thank you.” Day-long shopping trips for holiday gifts are reduced to a cozy 45-minute spree done at one website between episodes of “New Girl,” no shoes or shirt required.

Santa does not need to receive our wish lists until Dec. 23 this year, because we can get virtually anything shipped to us within one or two days. While it may seem that I am concerned about the effects of the modern market on our physical activity, what has really caught my attention about its increasing efficiency is how this affects the human interaction of the transaction and the consumer’s consideration of the people on the
other side.  

Self-checkout allows the opportunity for us to enter and leave a store without saying a word to anyone. It also replaces the need for cashiers. Online grocery orders have a similar effect, except we can guarantee no interaction if we opt for an unattended delivery.

Christmas shopping on Amazon is a whole mess compounding on the issues of the aforementioned methods. If we buy from family members’ and friends’ wish lists, it leaves little to no room for thoughtfulness as we mindlessly click “Add to Cart” over and over.

The rapidity at which almost anything can be shipped to us should not be possible, especially around a holiday supposedly about everyone being with their families. I could write an entire article on the poor treatment of Amazon workers and the absurdity of the wealth disparity between Jeff Bezos and his average employee, but instead I am just going to suggest you do a Google search of “Amazon Christmas time working conditions.”

In all of these cases, the efficiency and convenience of our experience is valued over, and maybe without, consideration of the well-being of the employee doing the work to get the products into our hands. We are getting more and more distant from the traditional site of an exchange. 

But why should I waste the time and money it takes to buy local? Or go through a checkout line with a cashier? Or leave my house at all? Is it not much easier to take these other routes? It is so much more convenient.

It is much easier. But is easier always better? It is also convenient. But our convenience almost always inconveniences someone else – it is a selfish project. And this is where I get wildly freaked out. In a consumerist culture like ours where buying things constitutes much of our identity, the logic of the market penetrates into areas of our life where it is not welcome – chiefly, our personal
relationships.

In making friends, you learn early on that friendships are not convenient. Disagreements are inevitable and they can be draining. Lamenting alongside someone for something you did not live through is a heavy weight to bear. Sometimes humans experience irrational (or seemingly irrational) emotional and mental pain, and empathizing is simply difficult. 

But in a society where we are told easier is better and convenience is a virtue, we find ways to avoid the inconveniences of loving and being loved by another. We shop for friends who are most like us to limit the possibility for conflict. Instead of going to our friend’s side in a sorrowful time, we send them a text. 

We divert conversation towards something we can relate to when our role begins to require listening and careful speaking. We equate love with pure acceptance, even when we see our friends hurting themselves. We leave when someone tells us truth about ourselves that we do not like.

I catch myself doing any number of these mechanisms daily. When I think about my closest friends, it is haunting how much I have in common with them. It really makes me question if I have yet learned what it means to love someone when the majority of people I hold dear have so much capacity to give to me. Have I settled for an artificial kind of love that cannot bear inconvenience or difference?

We are a world desperately crying for empathy, but I fear we are using convenient pseudo-relationships as a pacifier. If this logic continues, the ability for true, diverse community will be but a pipe dream. We are racking up a social debt we will soon not be able to repay. Convenience is costly and it kills – sometimes literally in the case of overworked and abused laborers and often emotionally in our relationships.

This all reminds me of a scene from my favorite story, “The Little Prince.” The Little Prince meets a merchant who sells pills that quench thirst for a week and save the consumer fifty-three minutes. “The Little Prince” asks what he is to do with that extra time, and the Merchant says, “Anything
you like.” 

“The Little Prince” replies with something profound: “As for me, if I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water.”

Is the time and effort saved by convenience really worth it? Or do we end up paying more than we thought? Do we really want manufactured, encapsulated friendships, or do we want to take that 53-minute or 53-week or 53-year long walk it takes to get to the deep spring of mutual love?

I have a humble suggestion for myself and for you to start the process of mending the wounds convenience has had on our relationships: next time you reach a break in conversation, do not turn to your phone or even your surroundings to be served. Put in the work to look your friend in the eyes and appreciate simply their presence. Rebel against convenience and efficiency by wasting time in silently loving your neighbor. 

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