Our Pursuit of Convenience Produces Our Loneliness

This is part seven of an eight-part series published over eight consecutive weeks.

Recall a recent situation and ask yourself whether you opted for convenience or connection. If you were having a meal with a friend and they told you about a recent trip with their kids, did you say, “I want to see pictures. Can you send me some” or, alternatively, did you say, “I want to see pictures. Can you show me some?”

Do You Choose Convenience or Connection?

If a friend was going through a difficult issue, did you send a reassuring email or give them a call, or even ask her or him if they would like to meet up in person to talk about it?

If your son or daughter wants a Super Why coloring book, did you order it on Amazon or take them to one of the last remaining bookstores in your town and look over the different coloring books together before purchasing one?

I engaged in precisely this activity recently at Barnes & Noble and can vouch for it as a purveyor of connection. Not to mention that my children chose much better books because we could touch, feel, and look through them rather than click them unseen (or barely viewed) into an electronic cart.

Clearly Amazon is much more convenient than Barnes & Noble in terms of price and selection, yet there were other intangible benefits of having bookstores in our communities: a place to go, an educational family outing on a Saturday, a venue in which to meet other people, to peruse books and become inspired, to listen to an author share their passion, and even a place to write.

Conveniently Unfulfilling

In many communities across America, a bookstore acted as a cleaner and more exciting library than the public option, a place where you could also talk with others without the librarian giving you a nasty look or telling you to shut up.

So, once again, the Internet has shifted our society toward convenience and away from enjoyment. Truly consider how much you enjoy buying something online versus how much enjoyment you derive from going to a store, touching the merchandise, and soaking up the environment.

As the disgraced comedian Louis C. K. put it, “You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kinda satisfied with your products. And then you die.”

Our drive as a society toward convenience—facilitated by the intelligent, often mind-rather-than-heart-driven men who compete with each other for who can create the most efficient apps and websites—is relegating enjoyment to a nostalgic fantasy.

Bring It Home

Our increasingly mechanical reality represents what only a few decades ago we would have perceived to be a dystopian vision of ourselves immobilized behind our screens (think of the bloated, cloistered people in the Pixar film Wall-E), punctuating our otherwise fixed downward gaze to contentedly boast to each other of the great deals we are obtaining online (in the short term) at the price of what we truly value and will bring more fulfillment into our lives (in the long term).

Consider the activities you engage in daily. Make a commitment to spend less time doing them alone and more time doing them outside of the house and in the company of others. As much as possible, try to leave your phone at home or at least in your car or locker during these potential opportunities for social interaction.

What kind of quality experiences have you had this past week that didn’t involve a screen?