The high price of convenience

Our instant-gratification society ignores sizable hidden costs.

Some would say our culture is one of efficiency, that we are constantly streamlining the difficulties, making life easier for ourselves and others.

Which is, of course, bullshit.

Our culture is one of convenience, and there's a hell of a difference.

While the outcome of striving for efficiency isn't always positive — as a species, we're remarkably fucking adept at coming up with efficient ways to kill one another — the goal is always a savings of some sort. Of time, of resources. There's a permanent trimming of fat.

With convenience, there is always a commensurate cost for achieving that "savings," each and every time. Convenience is a purchased shortcut, a trade-off. And most of the time, it's a rip-off; is it possible to go to a convenience store for toothpaste or ibuprofen or motor oil after everything else is closed and not bitch about the markup?

Whether or not we're willing to pay for convenience is a decision each of us makes on a daily basis. Hey, it's a free country, sort of, and if you want to drive a shorter distance and give up a little more money or work a little less and give up a little more money or have it delivered directly to the house and give up a little more money, well, that's up to you.

But there are also hidden costs that come along with convenience. Like forgetting what it feels like to put in the time to accomplish something yourself. Like the atrophy of skill. Like the erosion of knowledge. Like the death of resourcefulness. Often, convenience is more than a trade-off; often, convenience is purchased at a loss. And as a nation addicted to immediate gratification and possessed of the collective attention span of a cranked-out fifth grader at a toy expo, we don't always factor in the full price.

If you ever wonder what convenience might be costing you, try one (or all) of the following activities, and ask yourself afterward if the payoff was worth it, and if you feel like you garnered a profit, or just wasted your time.

Grow a vegetable from seeds and cook it for yourself. This is a tough one; it's a long-term investment, and involves more effort and stress than you'd think if you've never done if before. Pick something (allegedly) easy to grow or challenge yourself. It's been said that there's no satisfaction quite like the kind you get from rolling your own sustenance from the garden to the table. But if you're hopeless with plants, you can get some idea of the effort-to-satisfaction ratio involved in fending for yourself in the kitchen through other activities, like:

Make a pizza from scratch. No pre-prepared dough from Publix or jarred marinara for a base—you mix it, you knead it, you crush the tomatoes and dice the garlic and shred the mozzarella. It's an incredibly time-consuming process that requires a blend of precision and creativity, and may give you a new perspective on both those people that prepare our foods for us, and your own limits of patience and discipline. Remember, if the end result isn't spectacular, that's not the point anyway. Like Scott Bakula said in that boring show with Everybody Loves Raymond and the intense black dude from Homicide: Life on the Streets, "the journey is the thing."

Masturbate without "external stimuli." You keep thinking about everything but sex, don't you? Your imagination has all the vividness of smudged newsprint. You're a carpenter ant, without the work ethic. Keep at it, though. The things you learn about your own body and desires might come in handy the next time you've got a partner, or are shopping for a new toy.

Spend the night somewhere you have no connectivity. I know people that would seriously consider giving up a toe rather than give up a working smartphone. Why? Five years ago, they could go all weekend without checking their texts or their feeds. What happened? Dependence upon convenience — and a wholly unnecessary convenience, at that. So go camping. Go party in a cabin in the mountains. Endure an evening bereft of the sound of the notification ping. It probably won't even kill you.

Stalk someone without using the Internet. There was a time not that long ago when you couldn't be bothered to keep up with close friends who moved to Bradenton, much less casual acquaintances from junior high who joined the Peace Corps. Do you really need to see how well that girl you crushed on for half a semester in college is doing with her third husband in Oswego? Sure, it's easy when you've got a few spare minutes at work to see how her morning is going, since the sitter canceled and she's staying home with the baby. I mean, before, if you really wanted to know, you'd have to take the time off, and drive or fly all the way up there, and invest in some decent surveillance gear, and ...

... come to think of it, stalking people online is pretty efficient.


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