Friday, May 4, 2012

Inconvenient Truths

      My early childhood was not like most; I was raised in a very small town, in a home my parents built themselves from adobe bricks. My food was cooked on a wood stove, my clothes were washed in a ringer washing machine and I learned to read by the light of a kerosene lamp. I was 13 before I had a phone and the only electricity was from a generator we used to power the VCR and TV for occasional movie nights. After moving to the big city at 15, I starting living what most people would consider a normal life. Suddenly I had a microwave, a TV that I could watch whenever I wanted and a stove that came on at the push of a button. I was instantly in love with modern convenience. As the years went by I started to see a change in myself that I was not proud of. I began to realize that the modern world, with all its modern conveniences was making me lazy and fat. The modern world is full of instant and easy. By definition convenience should be good, but is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
      As I watch the fast paced, electronic, machine-filled world revolve around me I am often reminded of the opening sequence of the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. The movie opens with sped up scenes of people rushing to work, machines clattering away slicing bread and moving heavy things. The scenes show the rushing, frenetic movements of a world of modern people dealing with all their machines and modern conveniences, often resulting in accidents. There are humorous scenes, such as a woman backing down her driveway in her car to get mail out of her mailbox, then driving back up her driveway and into her garage. These scenes make me laugh, but it is a sad reality. As more and more new technologies are introduced I have to spend more time learning how to use them and dealing with the frustration caused by errors, breakage and malfunction. I have begun to see that convenience has become thoroughly inconvenient.
       Convenience has overrun quality and time. Making a cup of tea has become as simple as a push of a few buttons on the microwave. Water is heated in just a few minutes and tea is packaged in a single serving bag. The convenience of making a quick cup is time saving and easy. What is missing from this experience is the calming routine of heating a pot, measuring and brewing the tea, and pouring a cup of warmth from a nice ceramic pot. In the rush for ease and convenience the modern world has turned its face away from ceremony and routine. The quiet moments of my life have been filled with the beep of machines and the buzzing of electronic notifications.
        If patience is a virtue, the modern world is full of vice. I no longer have to wait for a store to open at 9 in the morning to buy my milk. I no longer have to wait for the Postal Service to deliver a letter across the country and then wait again for the response to be delivered to me. If I want the answer to a question I no longer have to thumb through a stack of books to find it. Instant answers, immediate responses to communication and 24 hour access to shopping has made me impatient and allowed me to make split second decisions about purchases and actions. As my life becomes more fast-paced and things become more readily available I have lost the ability to sit and wait, to sleep on a decision and to take a moment to think about my words and deeds.
    As interpersonal communication becomes more and more electronic I more often converse without looking the other person in the eye. I can form entire relationships without ever having a face-to-face conversation. I have friends who live thousands of miles away, who I have never been in the same room with, and yet I have told them things about myself that I haven’t told my family. When I communicate electronically I don’t have to see and feel the reactions of the person on the other end of the phone or computer. Writing an email to a prospective boyfriend or texting a friend in another state feels almost like writing in a diary or journal. Not only can I tell this faceless person my deep, dark secrets, I can imagine their response and say things that I wouldn’t say if they were standing in front of me. When reading an email or a text the only tone I hear is the one I imagine in my own head, I can read a sentence written by someone else and give it meaning that was not intended. Relationships based on a foundation like this can be disappointing when I meet the person and begin to spend time with them in the real world, outside the confines of faceless electronic communication. When I can no longer add my own tone of voice to their communication I am forced to see who they really are and abandon the person I made them out to be in my head.
     With convenience comes frustration and stress. Making thousands of little choices has become a large part of modern life. When faced with choosing between 100 different pairs of jeans, in different colors, styles and prices I sometimes feel like throwing up my hands and going home empty handed. Modern grocery stores are packed with hundreds of choices. Which cereal for breakfast? Which brand of eggs is best? What juice should I buy? My brain is constantly bombarded with choices. Given so many choices, I often choose the easiest option, he option that saves the most time and takes the least effort. These choices often lead to unhealthy food and laziness. When I don’t have to do something, I often choose not to. Eating food someone else prepared is so much easier than cooking it myself. Driving a car is so much easier than walking a few blocks. Why get up and get dressed to drive to the store when I could just sit on my couch in my pajamas and order it online. Choice is a modern convenience that leads to laziness.
     I do not long for the days of beating my clothes on a rock beside a river or churning my own butter, but some days the fast pace of the modern world hangs heavy on my heart. Having things readily available definitely makes my life easier and frees up time for friendly gatherings, hobbies and entertainment, but at what cost? I eat food that is out of season, full of preservatives and packed with chemicals. I drive to the store, to school, and to work, even if it is a short trip. I send messages by phone, email or text without having to pick up a pen and fold a letter. I create relationships with people who don’t exist as I imagine them. These conveniences make life easier, but they also isolate me from family and friends, make me unhealthy and lazy, and make me a less patient person. The cost of ease and convenience is paid with my health, physically and mentally.

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