Buy it now. Express shipping. Same-day delivery. Something taking six to eight weeks to arrive is now viewed as a horrendous hardship, relegated only to transactions with the farthest flung corners of the world which can then most often be expedited for an additional cost. It took us a while to get here but the process beginning with industrialized manufacturing has now led to us clicking a button in our living rooms and expecting the package to be on our doorstep within twenty four hours. A pleasing technology-driven societal advancement. But it has not come without cost.
As industrialization and urbanization moved our lives away from ones of subsistence the focus and drive which replaced it was one of consumerism. Commercial industry began producing the necessary materials of our subsistence and the mission of our lives shifted from producing them ourselves to earning enough money to purchase them. For the first time convenience was an option for the general population and it quickly became the primary focus and metric.
Convenience is not intrinsically an evil. Instant gratification is not automatically toxic and destructive. There is nothing wrong with preferring comfort to discomfort, easy to hard, sooner to later. They are natural impulses. Comfort feels better than discomfort, easier is more enjoyable than hard, having good things now instead of later is more pleasurable.
The trouble is one can now easily argue the current primary motivation of our species has become convenience and comfort. We want it now and we are willing to pay whatever cost ‘now’ requires. Convenience has become for us what soma is to the quelled population of Orwell’s 1984. We have bought into the illusion that if we are able to pay enough, purchase enough of ‘the things’, amass enough personal wealth our lives will be nothing but instant comfort and ease.
No one’s life is ever completely without discomfort or difficulty. Those who are exorbitantly wealthy certainly do not face the same struggles the vast majority of us do in day to day life but they most definitely face their own sets of challenges and pains. Just because those struggles are not of primary daily material subsistence does not mean their lives are without pains or delays.
As commercial producers took over producing the materials of daily subsistence competitive markets set them to contesting with one another for our investment enabling the winners of those contests to amass enormous wealth. To sustain and continue to expand that wealth it became in their best interests to keep social focus aimed in the most amenable directions. From media messaging to trend shaping to lobbying influence and pressure leveraged against those in government with the power to shape policy their mission has been to keep the rules of the game aiming as much wealth in their direction as possible.
And the insidious trick is that they have also managed to convince people it is heroic to do so. Since pursuing convenience and comfort is at the core of the message being broadcast our way, which have bought into, it follows naturally that the pursuit of as much wealth as possible and thus the most comfort and convenience possible broadcasts as an intrinsic good.
Making it easier for people to amass more wealth is one thing but it quickly progresses to tailoring that ease to apply only to select individuals and then further to ensuring it is harder, or even impossible, for others to do the same. The heads of massive corporations and hedge funds proclaim it their patriotic and moral obligation to accrue as much profit as possible on behalf of their investors exploiting every possible tax loop hole to avoid paying into government, paying enormous amounts of money to influence policy makers into expanding those loop holes, all while railing against wage increases for their workers.
There is no question we have traded the monarchies of old based on church-proclaimed bloodlines for new ones based on amassed financial wealth. The power and control discrepancies are shaping up to be essentially the same ratio with a small select few having far more influence than the vast majority of the population. The difference this time around is we have participated in placing them in that position of power and continue to do so not just through compliant obedience but through active participation.
Significant wealth can most definitely make many typical aspects of one’s life much easier and more instantly pleasing. Accumulating wealth is not an evil. How it is accumulated most definitely can be. Even if we grant the heroism of pursuing and achieving wealth, knowingly and deliberately using methods which harm others is not emerging victorious from a fair contest for the prize but instigating and perpetuating corruption. That the system was vulnerable to corruption does not make acts of corruption any less toxic, destructive, reprehensible, and ultimately unsustainable.
Just because something can happen faster does not automatically make it better. In order to increase the speed of a process some aspects must be compromised. Improving efficiency requires time, effort, and resources to be expended in order to refine the process, discover better materials, and institute the necessary training. In the case of increasing the pace or amount of production the most common compromises wind up being in the quality of the materials and methods.
The reverse paradigm is also true, just because something takes longer does not automatically make it better. We can easily over ennoble the concept of self-denial and hardship being guarantees or requirements for building character. Discomfort is part of growing but strife does not always breed betterment and length of process is not a guarantee of ultimate quality. Processes of all forms are vulnerable to inefficiency and outdated practices and there is always room for innovation in both methods and materials.
If quality of result is held as the primary goal and metric compromise of process will eventually exhaust. There is only so much we can alter the materials and process before the quality of the result starts to falter, it is unavoidable. If quality were to be the primary qualifier of profitability then consumer markets would help prevent excessive result-weakening compromises.
Our current ‘instant gratification’ focused society, however, has leaned in another direction. Today’s market has pushed convenience much further up the ladder of importance relegating quality to a lovely bonus but something which the consumer must make the majority of compromises to obtain.
Appliances, clothing, vehicles, pre-packaged food are all produced far faster and on a much larger scale than ever before. An impressive feat of industrial engineering to be sure but if durability is a major part of how quality is measured, and it most certainly should be, then the level of quality has dropped proportionally to the increase in production.
To get more than a year or two out of a new appliance is a rather rare and impressive accomplishment and once it has started to falter there is most often no point in attempting to repair it as the components and materials have all run their course. We don’t fix them, we chuck ’em and replace ’em with a shiny new one. Which will likely last about the same amount of time as its predecessor or perhaps even less.
‘Hand-me-down’ clothing might have been the bane of some people’s existence growing up but it isn’t even much of an option nowadays. Our addiction level craving for novelty notwithstanding most clothing purchased in a store now does well if it lasts more than a couple seasons of wear, if that. Our deplorable cultural habit of wearing something once then throwing it away has put nitrous in the engines of quality compromise making the problem continually worse. Looking at the slave-labor and land-fill waste generated is a whole other conversation.
Pre-packaged food can last a great deal longer without spoiling thus extending both storage and transportation limits, all but eliminating typical prep time, and has now passed the tipping point where it tends to be less expensive than purchasing the fresh base ingredients. To meet these goals the processing and additives the food is subjected to alters the dietary impact significantly, not for the better, and to meet the demands of mass production the quality of the ingredients used falls to the lowest rather than the highest levels. The convenience is maximized we just crack it open, heat it up, and go. As a result, however, the least healthy food options have become the cheapest and most accessible and we are seeing the impacts of this in the rates of obesity and nutrition related illness soaring in North America. To say nothing the enormous amounts of packaging waste produced.
These are just a few commercial product examples of how our instant gratification addiction has super charged the quest for convenience, which tends to solve one problem while creating two or three or more others. The eyes of history looking back at this period are not likely to be kind or forgiving of the environmental impact the resulting waste and pollution have created, more importantly our eyes right here and now should not be looking at it and kindly or forgivingly either.
To bring it all back down to the personal level we have had a great deal of societal machinery leveraging our natural impulses towards comfort and pleasure, which again are not automatically evil and harmful. The result has been not only a toxic preference of convenience over quality and sustainability but also it has taken our natural desire for our lives to be as comfortable and pleasurable as possible and warped them into the expectation that our lives are supposed to be that way.
From commercial products to media to approaches in education and beyond the pervasive message has become that our personal comfort is not just desirable it is an inalienable entitlement. If it makes us feel better right this moment it is an intrinsic good. Anything preventing or detracting from that comfort is an evil, one which must be attacked and vanquished.
We have become social warlords railing individually or en masse against any personal inconvenience or discomfort. We rant, rage, bombard, and protest any source of discomfort or displeasure falsely ennobled under the notion that our personal comfort is a god given right. A deeply hypocritical premise because every single person’s personal comfort cannot matter more than everyone else’s.
Desiring comfort is not an evil nor is it automatically a weakness, but it is a vulnerability. If we allow ourselves to become dependent upon being perpetually comfortable we risk rendering ourselves incapable of coping with discomfort which is an inescapable part of life. We then leave ourselves open to being lead around by our desperation by anyone who is in a position to exploit it, for example those who are in positions of financial power because they have already been profiting massively off of our impulse for comfort which they have worked to exacerbate into a desperate need.
Discomfort may not be pleasant but it is not an evil, it is not automatically harmful. Blind fixation on instant personal pleasure is not noble or owed to us by the world around us. It is the obsessive behavior of an addict and we have plenty of evidence displaying the devastation and destruction intense addiction causes both to the individual and to those around them.