The Hidden Costs of Convenience

Have you heard or intuited these messages? 

  • “Life is hard.”
  • “Things take too long.” 
  • “Time is money.” 
  • “Others have an easy life, why can’t you?”
  • “You deserve to take it easy.” 
  • "Don't worry, someone can do it for you."
  • “There’s an easier way to do this.”
  • “You need help. Here’s the solution.”
  • “This will make you [happier, sexier, cool, successful].”

I bet you have. Probably daily.

Marketing isn’t the problem. Marketing is just a tool. People are the problem. People with short-term pressures and greedy, selfish goals. But it’s not just the people in marketing who are responsible. Consumers are complicit as well. When they refuse to spend a few minutes understanding side effects and buy a story instead, consumers aren’t acting as adults, they are just pawns.
— Seth Godin, All Marketers Tell Stories (2005-9), p. 128.

These are all messages marketers want us to believe as we go about our day. Creating a need or a want is how companies make money and grow. One of the best angles appears to be telling us something will be a timesaver or will enable us to do better, more valuable or more productive things with our time.

Sounds too good to be true? It often is. 

We give up far more than we think when we opt for convenience.

The hidden costs of convenience go much farther than the monetary premium we pay for all that's convenient.

Seven points to consider: 

  1. We often spend more time for convenience than we realize. 
  2. We lose the intrinsic satisfaction of having done something ourselves. 
  3. We become less self-sufficient. 
  4. We mistakenly associate status with the use of disposable items. 
  5. We buy more than we need. 
  6. We tax the environment.
  7. We become incensed if we have to wait for something...anything. 

Additional Costs of Convenience

1. We often spend more time on "convenience" than we realize. 

If you don't believe me, measure the amount of time it takes to go through a drive thru versus the amount of time spent in line at a favourite fast food restaurant. The "in person" lineup is almost always faster but we'd rather sit in our car with the engine running than park and go into the restaurant. (And yes, it's even faster to just make the breakfast sandwich and coffee at home!)

2. We lose the intrinsic satisfaction of having done something ourselves. 

Have you ever built or made something yourself? Clothing, a deck, a special meal, crafts, painting, anything? How much do you value something you made or fixed versus something you bought? How easy is it to get rid of something you made yourself? When we buy versus make or fix, we lose opportunities to feel we’re capable and creative individuals, which perpetuates the belief that we're not in a position to do things for ourselves and that only what comes from a store can be considered perfect, not merely acceptable.

3. We become less self-sufficient. 

There’s a wealth of talent that lies in all of us. All of us...must nurture creativity systematically and not kill it unwittingly.
— Ken Robinson

How often have you taken what seemed like the easy way out by purchasing a product or service to take care of something you could, with a bit of elbow grease or problem solving, have taken care of yourself? Do you find that you’re increasingly likely to pick up the phone or shop online to find the product or service that will make the problem go away with more ease than taking it on yourself with what you currently have at your disposal?

The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
— Robert F. Kennedy

Increasing dependence on products and services has had dire consequences for us. We’re all increasingly relying on others. How many of us are able to do what our parents and grand parents could do for themselves? What percentage of us can—without sweating it—make a proper meal from scratch, patch or hem a pair of pants, fix the sink, patch and paint a wall, plant and care for a vegetable garden, change the oil in our car? That number is getting smaller every year. Self-sufficiency is no longer valued, despite having been deemed essential just a few generations ago.

It's also costing us our health.

“There’s a lot of money to be made from telling healthy people they’re sick. Some forms of medicalizing ordinary life may now be better described as disease mongering.”
— British Medical Journal (BMJ) 2002, “Selling Sickness: The Pharmaceutical Industry and Disease Mongering"

We start to believe the way we can stay healthy is by using exercise machines or by popping pills and that the only way we can know if food is good for us is by looking at the nutrition label. That's plain BS. We can walk or bike to the store or walk as opposed to take our car, we can clean our own homes, garden, cook meals ourselves from scratch (if it doesn't have a nutrition label it's probably better for you anyway), help each other out with manual labour tasks such as moving or building something, walk our own dog(s), do our own yard maintenance, etc. We can also use this great invention called stairs as opposed to escalators and elevators. People didn't used to go to the gym just a few generations ago. They were healthier and fitter than we are now because they did stuff

4. We mistakenly associate status with the use of disposable items...

[T]he only reason symbols have meaning is because we infuse them with meaning. That meaning lives in our minds, not in the item itself.
— Simon Sinek, Start with Why (2009), p. 160.

...and increase our consumption of items that have little to no long-term value (fast fashion, cars, makeup & hair products, subscriptions, tech). It’s become uncool to have reusable items because we can't be that busy or wealthy if we pack a lunch or bring a thermos to work. As much as we like to think otherwise, there’s something aspirational about getting something and using it only once, thereby showing others that we can afford it or are too important to care.

Don't believe me? Explain the ever-present lineup at Starbucks.

5. We buy more than we need...

The materialism paradox says that when consumers are most hotly in pursuit of nonmaterial meanings, their use of material resources is greatest…We devalue the material world by excessive acquisition and discard of products.
— Juliet B. Schor, Plenitude (2010), p. 41. either having more than one of everything or buying as opposed to borrowing or renting one-time or seldom used items. How many bathrooms, TVs and vehicles does one household need? Why do we buy as opposed to borrow or rent one-time or seldom used items (tools, media, books, home exercise equipment)? We even buy items or extra features on speculation with the idea that "we might need it" if an opportunity or a problem might arise! Many leisure items fall into that category: boats, trailers, SUVs - do we really need to be able to do off-roading, etc.?

It seem we never want to be without. Being inconvenienced, having to wait to be able to do something, or worserealize we can't— is no longer acceptable. Even if that means going into debt to enable us to solve our wants now. After all, we deserve it.

6. We tax the environment.

At the heart of the issue [of climate change] is a simple but powerful point. The very existence of an environmental effect outside the market (an externality) means that the market has not found and efficient outcome. Climate change is the most serious market failure in human history.
— Juliet B. Schor, Plenitude (2010) , p. 83.

It would be hard to argue that convenience foods, either from the supermarket or from a restaurant, are not wasteful. From the food that never gets eaten to the extra packaging required (often not recyclable), and even as far as considering the extra real estate required to set up the manufacturing and packaging of this food, convenience levies a significant tax on our natural resources. If you want a visual reminder, just rinse out and keep all the drink containers you use during one month—all of them, from a morning coffee to the afternoon single serving can or drink container. It can be shocking to see how much we use...and that's just counting beverages! 

7. We become incensed if we have to wait for something...anything. 

How long can you wait for a package now? A few days? A few weeks? How long can you wait to get something to fill a need/want such as hunger or entertainment? If it needs to go in the oven as opposed to the microwave, will you buy it? If a movie, book or app takes more than a few seconds to load before you can view/use it, or worse the Internet slows to a crawl or doesn't work, do you get upset? How do you feel when a flight that’s saving you a huge amount of driving time is an hour late?

Our inability to be patient is causing us unnecessary stress. But it's also costing us much of the joy associated with anticipation. Delayed gratification is one of the best ways of bringing joy into our lives and we're killing its potential every time we reach for convenience. Now where’s my smartphone?

Louis C.K. sums up our lack of appreciation beautifully in this interview on Conan.

BONUS #8. We give up our ability to think and be.

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
— Mary Oliver
[Y]ou are most open to suggestion when your mental cruise control is on or when you find yourself in unfamiliar circumstances.
— David McRaney, You Are Not So Smart (2011), p. 13.

Convenience turns us into shallow thinkers. Convenience means we outsource our problem solving and, worse, we busy ourselves so much that we get caught up in the minutia and forget to consider the bigger picture when it comes to how we view the world and ourselves. Years can go by as we  hop from app to app, purchase to purchase, service to service before we stop to consider what we're doing and how unfulfilling it is. It's mindless, it's numbing and when we do stop to take stock, we find we have a whole lot of nothing that has cost us so much.

Are you diluting your potential for a happy and purposeful life by seeking convenience?

Image credits/copyright: tiverylucky /

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