The Con in Convenience

the con

In the present-day life of a typical U.S. American – let’s call him Albert – among the biggest enemies imaginable is inconvenience. Albert avoids inconvenience at every possible turn. For him, it is very inconvenient to plan ahead for meals, design menus and decide which dishes to serve when, then to shop for the foods, wash and store them when he returns home – and then to actually execute those plans. This is inconvenient in the extreme, he feels, this whole array of activities. So, Albert chooses to buy convenience in a couple of ways. First, he dines out a lot. When he gets hungry – and not before, usually – he begins to think about what it is he will eat. Since there is no time left to anticipate mealtime, he goes to a fast-food or sit-down restaurant and has a look at the menu. Ahh, there it is: his favorite. He orders up and waits. Albert is satisfied and relaxed with his convenience. A second way that Albert buys his convenience occurs when he shops at the grocery store: He buys processed foods with an extended shelf life, convenient and tasty bags of chips, along with other food products that bear little resemblance to whatever natural foods might once have been their origins.

Albert also believes physical activity and exercise – walking, climbing stairs, going to the gym, the park, the bike trail – are also highly inconvenient. He combats this feeling, again buying his convenience, by driving everywhere he goes, parking as close to the door as possible, taking the elevator, and remaining seated for the vast majority of his day. Also it’s very easy for Albert to talk himself out of going to the gym on a given day. It’s just too inconvenient, isn’t it – just think about it: He has to stop whatever he’s doing, put on his exercise clothes, get in the car, drive to the gym, do his workout routine, shower, change back into his normal apparel, and only then can he resume his daily tasks. All of this Albert finds to be outrageously inconvenient and, if he’s honest, just not worth the trouble. Instead, he sits. He drives. He rides. He is physically passive throughout his day.

Albert considers another focal point of his life to be inconvenient: personal relationships. Parents. Friends. Co-workers. They all have their own dramas and demands. When he takes a moment to consider it, Albert wonders if it wouldn’t just be easier not to engage with any of these people, with anybody for that matter. Albert sees himself as completely without need of social attachments, takes pride in his rugged individualism. When they said no man is an island, Albert thinks, they weren’t talking about me. Albert thinks that all of that social connectedness mumbo-jumbo is just so much tenderhearted New Age drivel. And in a declaration of his independence, Albert progressively retreats to himself more and more over time and becomes more isolated from the world.

Whether we judge Albert harshly or see his actions as perfectly normal, the truth is that there is a little bit of Albert in all of us who live in westernized countries. And whether we judge him or not, Albert’s choices toward convenience work against his health, both short-term and in the long run. But Albert does not envision any other goal, so thoroughly is he immersed in the Western Culture of Convenience. It is just what people do, he thinks, and he’s right. But that doesn’t make it healthy.

How can Albert see that convenience is the avowed enemy of his health and happiness? What will it take to wake him from his reverie – the very same spell so many in Western countries live under? The reality is that if Albert is like most of us, his convenience binge will end with a medical emergency. What a shame he did not think sooner about longer-term horizons.

 The piper plays a lovely tune, said the sage. And when the song is over, he must be paid.