Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The cost of convenience

In my ever-present dilemma of whether to stay near a city or unplug completely, I've discerned a disturbing pattern.

It occurred to me as I sat in my really great parking place at the local Shop 'n Save store. I'd been so happy to find it! On a busy day, the day of the shop's crazy-good specials, I'd managed to land a spot right by the door. I couldn't believe my luck. This awesome spot would allow me to run in and get the three little items I needed.

Ten minutes later, five of which had been spent at the bustling check-out (stop chatting and move it!), I hurried to my car. Except I couldn't drive away. There was a big truck parked behind me, blocking me in along with two other cars. Of course it would stop there, with blinkers blinking; it was right by the entryway. As was I. Except now, my spot wasn't so perfect, was it?

I pondered my realization as I watched the truck's blinkers continue to mock me. Yes, every time there's a convenience, there is a price. Even if that truck weren't hedging me in, for example, the parking spot close to the door is also the spot most likely to feature runaway carts. I sought the pattern elsewhere. Cars? They're great. Except now that I depend on one, I am lazy and don't combine errands the way I would if I had to ride a bus, or walk, or bike. And, cars (and airplanes) have allowed people to move far away from jobs, schools, extended families, etc.—which seems convenient until you consider all the traveling hassles—not to mention the extra money we spend going to those places frequently, even daily. Plus the pollution.

I love my washing machine, clothes dryer, and the dishwasher. Love them. However. The price? Now it's too easy to be clean, to toss a shirt or a drinking glass into the ever available receptacle for dirties. I don't need to be careful, don't need to be mindful of whether the item is truly dirty, because the solution is right there. Waste, and waste more. The same is true for indoor plumbing and a seemingly endless supply of hot water at the ready. Now? We're all obsessed with cleanliness; God forbid we smell like people instead of perfumes. The Europeans don't seem to have been sucked into this illness; perhaps we should find out how they remain immune to the lures of scentlessness...

Easy, breezy communication? I've already touched on that one, and how I truly believe it's cheapened and weakened our interactions, to the great detriment of our language and relationships. Prepared foods? They're often very unhealthy for you, and use more energy to prepare and deliver than locally grown or slaughtered. Fast food? Same thing, plus all those convenient foods cost you more money, too.

Disposable goods are so convenient, aren't they? Paper plates, napkins, little zip-lock baggies, plastic cups that no one bothers to recycle, plastic tablecloths for parties, etc. I'm just as guilty—I've used them, too. Although I do recycle the cups, and we certainly don't entertain much... But I digress. The point is that since all this stuff is as close and cheap as your nearest dollar store (filled to the gills with imported garbage, no offense to the stores intended), we have an insatiable hunger for junk just because it's there. It's so affordable. We forget that we'll never use it all, that we never needed it to begin with.

Easy entertainment via TV, movies, and games? Well, now we've forgotten to think for ourselves, and we're getting less exercise than ever before. Health costs continue to skyrocket, not just because the health care and drug companies are the new mafia, but because collectively we're in worse physical shape than pretty much any nation in history that I can think of.

The best part? We're teaching our kids to require all these conveniences. So they, too, can be slaves to big corporations and foreign countries. So they can also have lifelong habits that kill them softly instead of infusing their lives with meaning and purpose.

It seems to me that everything intended to add convenience to our lives actually costs us considerably in some other way. Does anyone else see the pattern? Is anyone else starting to question our culture?

Upon closer inspection, the remote countryside is looking pretty good. Harder, yes. But infinitely better than the squishy alternative.


Athelas63 said...

yes, you have many valid points. Was just reading a book last night - I highly recommend - Beautiful Joe. I only got it because it was the #1 recommendation on my new Kindle app for the phone... ANYWAY - its like Black Beauty, only from a dog's point of view! And turned out to be a true story. ANYWAY - it also extols the virtues of country, simple, living. I found myself wishing for a farm in the countryside and goats and gardens and such. But don't know if that's realistic any more. I try to be wise about my use of all the "good stuff" but it's hard. And so many people seem to NEVER consider anything other than THEIR convenience....

On another note - don't be fooled about European "scentlessness!" They might not smell like our colognes and perfumes, but they do smell - sometimes badly!! Riding in a crowded subway in August with an old Frenchman's armpit inches from your nose makes you YEARN for some American fussiness!! :D

Mel said...

that book sounds good, Athelas. and yes, don't know how realistic it is to yearn for country life anymore. I'd settle for increasing our self-reliance and lessening outside dependency at this point.

I didn't mean that Europeans are scentless. I doubt that any living thing is scentless. they just seem to have steered clear of the pursuit of scentlessness. It doesn't sound like they leap out of bed daily to shower and then do it again the second they sweat. I'm not a fan of stink, truly--bad B.O. can turn my stomach. it does seem though that people here are afraid of having any naturally occurring oils or perspiration on them, even small amounts.

chris h. said...

I don't know many people who don't long to "get away," but I'm afraid my idea of getting away means keeping all the conveniences I love instead of truly channeling my inner Laura Ingalls (thanks to her, I was convinced I grew up as a pioneer in another life, like a million other little girls, no doubt). That and the fact I know nothing about living off the land (I still get to eat if my flowers die) or managing livestock, even chickens. And yes, I like my shower and Secret every day!

That said, I would like to live more simply, with less, and could do so happily...if I could just get past the notion of "but I paid money for this!" and give more stuff away. It's hard.

Mel said...

It is hard to get rid of stuff you remember purchasing... but infinitely easier when a) you bought it cheaply or second-hand, and b) you do it often (then it becomes a liberating experience that you anticipate). Plus, I find that frequent purging makes me really think about bringing new stuff into the house. (I still fall for sales and deals sometimes, sad to say, but sometimes they really are good deals... The rest of the time I console myself by knowing I got whatever item for a good price.) It is an on-going battle, I guess, for everyone.

Also--chris--I love daily showers in hot weather when my skin doesn't flake away. }: )