Three Unexpected Limitations of Convenience

1. Unaccounted for Time and Labor

The most obvious example of unaccounted time is computer systems. Communication is only key strokes through email and information is fast to access with the internet. Yet, I cannot count the hours I have spent learning new software, fiddling around with gadgets and trying to fix uncooperative software and broken hardware. I have already lost three hard drives with hours upon hours of school work and journals.

Convenience is built on a series on innovations. These advancements are stacked more precariously than you may think. You don’t need to invent a procedure for making a needed car component or electronic part; someone’s already doing it, and putting it in the things you want to buy. All of this relies on multiple parts working together. If information is not accurately passed on from an inventor, the patent is inaccessible, resource extraction comes to a stop or the companies that manufacture and those that assemble go out of business, we are left with a lot of work to do to recreate a ‘product of convenience’.

These innovations often need to be maintained through labor; internet and network security, paved roads and building maintenance are a few examples.

Real convenience should come from products that are built to last and are easy to fix and maintain. These days, it is often encouraged to replace electronics rather than fix them. Are we accounting the time it takes to create a new one and our own labor hours to purchase it?

2. Less MacGyvers

Not everyone needs to know everything—that is convenient. You don’t need to know HTML to make a blog; you can use wordpress. You don’t need to practice simple math (calculators), navigate with verbal directions from a dude on the street (GPS) or remember anything (organizers, Wikipedia, facebook birthdays, etc.)

However, there is also less MacGyvers out there forced to create what is not already available. Allowing employees to be creative and free-thinking in the work place is one thing, stressing them out with a problem that requires resourcefulness is another. That’s not convenient but the results can be.

A lack of convenient resources on hand allows people and business to harness the full potential of their assets, whether they take a break from their use or are just obtaining them for the first time. It also fosters gratitude.

3. Making us Soft

As implicated in the last point, convenience is not convenient for our minds. This stunting of growth goes beyond limiting the use of resourcefulness, it affects our ability to adapt to stress.

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. – Todd Becker (read his blog at Getting Stronger)

Lifting weights stimulates muscle growth, fasting helps increase insulin sensitivity and facing fears can allow us to overcome them. Convenience hopes to make everything easier, but for those that rely on the security and comfort it brings, it will lead to less adaption to stress. Your grandpa was right, we are getting soft.

Life is a journey of ups and downs. Stress helps prepare for the downs. The more prepared, the more practice you have done, the less of a chunk an unexpected event will take out of you. You will be able to be more resourceful and self-reliant than if you had simply clung to the luxuries convenience brings us.

Continue reading about hormesis at Getting Stronger (one of my favorite blogs).

Read my entry about the benefits of camping.

For an exercise to test your perceptions of time (and ultimately the value of convenience) read this entry.

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