Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What Is This Thing Called Convenience?

'Convenience'. It seems that this word has become an ideal unto itself. Something that we should all strive for in our daily lives. To sum up what I believe to be the dominant mantra of my generation:

'Convenience is always good.'

Building on this, I'd venture as far as to say that, by and large, my generation and those that follow have adopted an implicit, unspoken mantra that goes something like this:

'Anything that requires time, energy or critical thought is generally not good'

I know I'm being hard on us 'young' people, and I know that the above are blanket statements for which many, many exceptions can be found on a daily basis (I count myself lucky to have so many friends that have bucked this trend).

But it does seem to me that our generation is wired to seek out convenience and to dismiss things that take too much effort or time. I see it even more prevalently amongst today's teenagers and those in their early twenties - they expect to things to be easy and instant. It's like there's this sense of entitlement to having everything from cell phones to a university degree to a high-flying job and a perfect family. They expect money to buy the cell phone and university degree and the job and family to be dropped in their laps. If things don't work, there's always a newer model to be found.

I am one part saddened and one part frustrated by this emerging mindset that places ALL the emphasis on attaining some 'thing' or some status, without any recognition that human joy and contentment is experienced not in the final acquisition of something, but in the efforts that we take to reach a goal, to challenge ourselves, and, ultimately, to better our lives and the lives of others. Truly, it is that final effort - to better the lives of others - that brings the greatest joy. I'm afraid we are losing sight of this. I suspect there are many reasons, but I suggest that the main reason we are falling into this 'forgetting' is because we've never experienced 'lack'. We were born in times of plenty and relative peace. There's a massive curtain between our reality and that of other young people across the globe - teenagers that carry machine guns, prostitute themselves for food, or have been orphans since they were infants. We can choose to draw back the curtain and unsettle our reality, but most of us would rather not. It might be uncomfortable. It might demand us to think critically about what it is we value and whether, perhaps, our expectations are a bit askew. So instead, we remain cocooned in this reality that tells us we can have everything we want, and we don't really have to put much effort in to get it. We can just buy our way to a convenient, mass-produced lifestyle that allows us to have everything we want, whenever we want it.

But I digress, this was intended to be a post about the illusion of 'convenience' and the way its penetrated our psyche in such a way as to become both coveted and expected. Every facet of our lives should be, MUST be, convenient. Because we need more time. But what do we need more time for? For playing video games? for watching reality television? for more hours to shop for even more convenient 'things'?

This affair we are having with the idea of convenience is a troubling one. At the very least, it draws us further and further away from the sources of joy and contentment and, in some cases, it can be outright damaging to our mental, spiritual and physical health. When did walking to school become passe? Why does every parent today feel compelled to drive their kid to school? Those children are never going to know the joy of seeing a slew of earthworms on the pavement after a rainfall. They're not going to have the chance to sneak into the corner shop and spend their allowance on candy. They won't know what it is to have their sboots filled with melting snow from climbing through snowbanks en route to class. Instead, they'll think that life is about getting from Point A to Point B in the most convenient way, never knowing the joys of taking the slower, less convenient option.

And where am I going with all of this? To the kitchen of course! Perhaps nowhere has this idea of 'convenience' become more addictive than in how we relate to the food that we put in our mouths everyday. One need only see a toddler point to a big M and say 'MacDonald's' to know that food has been stripped down to two desirable traits: cheap and convenient. That is what most of today's younger people want. And maybe some older people too. Last century there was a mass exodus from the family farm, this century and in the latter parts of the last century, it is the kitchen that has come under siege. The oven and stovetop have become TOO SLOW. As a friend of mine recently pointed out - 'why would I want to cook a steak in the oven when I can nuke a whole meal, including steak, in two minutes? Now that's convenient'. Yes, yes, it's true I have unconverted friends. I'm trying my hardest to convert them, but the prevailing powers of a society hooked on speed and the big 'easy' are making my job hard!

I don't know how to do it though. In the end I am at a loss as to how I can convince someone whose whole reality has been an IV drip of ease and convenience to look beneath the surface. Or maybe it's about feeling beneath the surface - about honestly gauging one's joy barometer to determine if convenience is really the quickest way to happiness...or if it ever really leads to happiness. We move from one distraction to another at such a speed (thanks to all our conveniences) that I wonder if we've lost our ability to tell the difference between real joy and the suggestion that this 'thing' should make us happy. Are we to the point that we are generating an artificial sense of happiness and can't tell the difference between this and the real thing???

I, for one, find joy in the hours I spend in the kitchen, making meals and baked goods from scratch. My enjoyment comes not only from the final product - food that has a delightful taste and texture, but also from the act of preparing the food. It's meditative and mending, this act of chopping and sauteeing, kneading and rolling. It may not be convenient, per se, but that's OK with me. I'm in nor hurry to 'get' somewhere, because I'm enjoying where I am. And that is the difference between a home-cooked meal and a microwave meal. The microwave meal is not more convenient - it just gives you more time to do other things that are equally 'convenient' and equally unenjoyable. The home cooked meal gives you less time to do other things, but more time to enjoy the act of making a meal and savour the smells and tastes of your labour.

I have more to post about this idea of convenience - particularly with respect to its long-term side effects on our body and mind. But this will have to wait. I am tired and must go to sleep, as I will be farming early tomorrow morning.


Rob said...

Dear Shannon
Your voice is coming out - more!

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