Many of us are surrounded by conveniences that appear to improve our lives by making them easier. But the system of convenience comes with deep costs.
Some of these costs are obvious. The instant gratification world has given rise to a system of technology and industrialization that centralizes decision-making power into the hands of a few corporate leaders who treat people as objects for marketing, management, and exploitation. The rest of us are reduced to consumers, citizens, and laborers – our daily lives spent servicing a system that is beyond our control or comprehension. Meanwhile, an unsustainable global supply chain of oil, corn, and computer chips feeds the machine, devastating the environment.
A less obvious cost of convenience is the way it isolates us and robs our lives of meaning. For most of the 200,000 years Homo sapiens have walked the Earth, we have spent our lives in small groups, with the people close to us providing our food, music, shelter, warmth, and sex. But now many of us don’t count on the people in our lives to meet our needs. Our food is instantly served to us by smiling strangers. Buttons control the sound that enters our ears. Machines and photographs stand in for sex partners. Fast food. Fast tunes. Fast orgasm. Fast isolation. Depersonalized convenience explains why people in the “wealthiest” nations suffer the most from loneliness and mental illness.
Convenience also robs us of the opportunity to solve problems. Advertisers would like us to believe that human beings dislike problems, that we want things to be as easy as possible. But we are nature’s most tenacious problem-solvers. When we don’t have any challenges — when convenience has robbed us of the opportunity to do things for ourselves — we go crazy with depression and anxiety. People need complexity. We are not computers. Capitalism seeks to conquer nature and solve all problems, but when it does, what is left for human beings?
Each time you choose to “conveniently” alter your state with a corporate-distributed object, you are building up the walls of your own prison and isolating yourself from others by becoming dependent on corporations to fit your needs. “It’s all about you,” the advertisers coo, enticing us to crawl into the corporate womb of instant gratification. As products become more reflexive, responding to our needs instantly, we become trapped in individualized cages of convenience. And the Cage of Convenience is precisely the thing that is killing the Earth and making our rulers more rich and powerful, while robbing our lives of meaning. Addressing the cage means smashing hierarchy and reclaiming our lives as dynamic, meaningful interactions with people we care about.
It won’t be easy. Sometimes when we cook for each other, the food gets burned or there’s a slug in the homegrown salad. And sometimes your housemates really can’t sing that well or the scarf your boyfriend knitted doesn’t quite wrap around all the way. Meeting each other’s needs doesn’t bring instant, easy satisfaction – which is precisely the point. People have their own wants, needs, and feelings that don’t always match ours. Sometimes your partner doesn’t want to have sex with you right now, but she’ll help you repair your bicycle. Maybe your housemate will cook dinner tonight, but not the lasagna you crave. It is in the moment when other people stop being convenient – when they say “no” to our needs – that they are no longer commodities but people, with wills of their own. And it is people (not commodities) that challenge us and create texture in our lives.
And sure, sex toys are nice when you’re in a pinch, but they can’t stand in for the thrill of flirtation, the sublimity of seduction, the taste of another person’s lips, the rippling warmth of erections, ear nibbles, and ankle licks. And no fast food unit can compare to a successful home meal, to a steaming omelet with eggs from your own hens and garlic-buttered chard with a glass of dandelion wine. And yeah, it’s nice to drop the needle on a good Pink Floyd record sometimes, but the sweet sounds of In the Clouds can’t compare to the thrill of rocking out on the accordion amongst electric guitars and theremins in the new freakfolk/punk band you and your neighbors have just invented.
Corporations want us to forget that we have the power to create these deeply meaningful interactions. Our rulers seek to convince us that we aren’t ready for the hard work of building amazing lives with the people around us. But hard work is exactly what we need to make our lives meaningful and save ourselves from the machine that is destroying the Earth’s life support systems. The CEOs and corporate advertisers will scratch their heads when they discover millions of abandoned cages, then they will throw off their suits and join us.