I’m not buying an Apple Watch. It's not because I'm cheap, or a Luddite or not fully initiated into the Cult of Steve. I'm not buying one because it would make my life too easy, too convenient.
We live in the Age of Convenience. That concept lies at the heart of what Silicon Valley is selling and we are so eagerly buying. We see convenience not only as a nicety but an expectation, an entitlement. Our love of convenience is so ingrained, its inherent goodness so self-evident that we can't imagine any other way. Why would anyone choose the hard way when there is an easier alternative?
There are, in fact, many downsides. I'm not arguing for a return to the inconvenient Paleolithic Era, but too often we fail to recognize the full cost of our convenient lives. There's an environmental cost — think of all those convenient plastic K-cups clogging the ecosystem — as well as personal and social costs.
Convenient food, such as sliced apples and pre-cut, prewashed lettuce, is pricier. But many studies have also cited health costs, blaming the increasing convenience of processed food for the obesity epidemic in the United States.
Shopping on Amazon is wonderfully, magically convenient. Point. Click. Enjoy. Every time you order a book from the online giant, you take business away from your neighborhood bookstore, perhaps hastening its demise. And it's one less chance for human interaction.
Yes, in theory, conveniences free up time to spend with family or on the golf course, but such optimistic predictions of a leisure bonanza are invariably wrong. In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that “our grandchildren” would work about “three hours a day.” The truth is that while we are spending a bit less time at the office, we feel busier than ever. Besides, tethered to our smartphones, many of us never really leave the office.
Having it too easy degrades our capacity for compromise. We lead increasingly comfortable, atomized lives. Our cars feature separate climates for driver and passenger; our mattresses offer separate degrees of firmness. Comfortable? Sure. Convenient? Yes, but if we can't compromise on the small stuff , like mattress firmness, how can we expect to do so for truly pressing problems?
We'd also be a lot wiser if we were to embrace difficulty rather than run from it. Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, of PrincetonUniversity and UCLA, respectively, asked half the students in a college lecture to use laptop computers, and instructed the other half to use paper and pen. The laptop users took more notes, but the paper-and-pen group scored considerably higher on comprehension.
Mueller and Oppenheimer surmised that the longhand note-takers couldn't mindlessly transcribe the lecture verbatim. They were forced to condense and synthesize the material — in other words, to think deeply about it. They benefited from desirable difficulty. Likewise, having to reach farther than your wrist to check the weather forecast isn't necessarily a bad thing. (Desirable difficulty does not mean impossible difficulty. For obstacles to be useful, they must be surmountable.)
Human beings crave boundaries, obstacles and, yes, inconvenience. Scratch the surface of our frothy lives and you see this truth laid bare. Take, for example, Buddhism. It is not the easiest religion, as anyone who has attempted to meditate for fi ve minutes knows, yet it is immensely popular. Why? Because on some deep, intuitive level we know that we have to do hard work to attain what we're seeking.
As for me, I've begun to incorporate desirable difficulty into my life. I've ditched my capsule coff ee maker and replaced it with a hand-pour one. It takes much longer, is less convenient, but the coff ee tastes better. It tastes better not despite the relatively arduous process but because of it.
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The author stresses that our capacity for compromise
- becomes worse because of convenient life.
- becomes worse because of pressing problems
- doesn’t change.
- becomes worse because of separate climates for driver and passenger.
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