Why is Convenience So Seductive?
Why we seem powerless to forego any chance to save a few minutes or a bit of energy.
Hello everyone, welcome to the Stuff They Never Told You. This week we’re looking at convenience and why it’s just so darn enticing. Promises of convenience go far beyond mere ease and comfort. It is one of the deepest (and healthiest) human drivers that attracts us to its call. Let’s get into it.
From The Ages
Friedrich Nietzsche on true fulfillment:
“What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”
Source: The Ant-Christ
Editor-in-Chief of Tablet Magazine, Alana Newhouse on the allure of new technologies:
“Seduced by convenience, we end up paying for the flattening of our own lives.”
Source: Everything is Broken
The most universal tactic to sell us anything is convenience. We spend billions of dollars each year on devices, apps, and other services that will make our lives easier. We also give away more personal freedom and privacy with each new promise of ease. We are absolutely seduced by convenience.
I love my phone and computer but, in their use, I also lose something in the process. You likely also feel the trade-off costs of outsourcing tasks that used to require us to actually move our bodies or have a face-to-face interaction. Yet, despite the obvious costs, we continue to adopt each new technology as if we had been waiting for it. We seem almost powerless to resist them. So we have to ask, why are we so seduced by convenience?
Above, Nietzsche gives us a definition of true contentment. It isn't any particular state that we like best but rather the feeling of progress. Growth is the ultimate goal and the path to happiness. If we expand our interpretation of Nietzsche's wisdom beyond only personal growth to include growth of community and growth in our relationships, I think we have a fairly complete guiding ideal. Nietzsche strikes at something that we can all feel. The deepest fulfillment, rivaled only by love and contribution (both of which require growth), comes from the feeling that we are improving—when we learn a new skill, see our long efforts finally bear fruit, and feel increasingly more confident to take on harder challenges.
Growth takes time and focus. Meeting a strength goal in the gym takes months of effort. Businesses often show no profits for several years. And many books take years or even decades to reach publication. But the growth that each of these pursuits brings is real and lasting. They make us feel that we are better than before because it’s true. It is the feeling of our power expanding that keeps us working, not the appeal of external rewards.
Technology offers a shortcut to this process. I can, often with the press of a button, expand my capabilities. I can download a new app, subscribe to the new service, or implement a new system that immediately allows me to accomplish things that I couldn't before (or at least accomplish old tasks with a fraction of the previous effort and time). I feel as though my power has expanded and it feels great. In one sense, my capabilities have expanded but it isn't actually me or my efforts. I can give myself near-daily hits of the same rewards that used to only come from long-term, focused work. Simply by using my technology, and the ever-increasing feature set that we could consider its standard use, I can trick myself into believing that I'm improving.
The allure of convenience comes from two natural human motivations that were each adaptive until our recent modern environment. First, we are wired to conserve energy. If we have the opportunity to save a few minutes or some precious calories by finding an easier way, we are hardwired to prefer it. But convenience also plays on our natural drive to expand our personal power. It is yet another natural and healthy human driver co-opted for commercial interests. Does that new note-taking app make me a better writer or simply a slightly more organized version of the same old procrastinator? Does that food delivery service actually bring a meal to you faster than you could make or retrieve it yourself or are you simply paying more for the futuristic feeling that you can have a meal at the touch of a screen? We can love our technology and continue to accept its rapidly growing assistance, but let's not fool ourselves that it can replace the real work that actually contributes to our happiness.
To continue this line of thinking, you might check out:
Everything is Broken (the article cited in From Today)
These ideas arose from my prep and participation in our last meeting with our member’s community, the IHD Seekers (hat tip to Ben, Brady, Marika, and Shane). Check out the group to join the next conversation!
Thank you for reading today and remember: life is too short to be normal!