Monday, September 20, 2004

Note on convenience

We are prone to thinking of convenience as an expansion of our capabilities: we become more efficient at identifying and fulfilling our needs, therefore we fulfill more of them, and therefore we are more happy. By this logic, convenience maximizes utility, which is a quantity of satisfaction.

But actually convenience is a reduction -- it alters our wants and needs to only those things which can be fulfilled expediently, coarsening our desires and leading us to neglect those needs which require more complex effort to fulfill. Those complex needs provide much a greater quality of happiness, satisfaction that resists quantification because there is no way to separate the effort from the reward. Often these needs are ones whose pursuit gives satisfaction in and of itself.

Quanititzing happiness and maximizing convenience go together, complementary strategies for forwarding an ideal of happiness that suits not individuals but corporations,entities that make a profit from efficiency. It in in the interest of corporations that we elide their interest in efficiency with our own interest in happiness. Our personal well-being becomes a product, something we are trying to manufacture like a commodity through the most efficient means possible. We think of our well-being as the sum of desires, all basically ephemeral, fleeting and trivial, rather then as the investigation and development of the intensity of a single will. Better to love someone deeply and inconveniently than to buy a series of consumer goods that ultimately add up to nothing.

As a utility, convenience is parasitic, it claims as its own some of the pleasure originally afforded by what has been now made convenient. The result is that the orginal activity loses that much of its ability to give pleasure, while convenience has become that much more central to one's existence. In this way the iPod becomes more important than whatever you happen to play on it. Music is diminished by whatever joy you take in its delievery system (the novelty of having so many music choices at your disposal makes all those choices more meaningless, and makes the substance of those choices that much less important). So the speed of life, and its attendent stress, continually increases, all in the name of pleasure.

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