Convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today. Convenience is boring. But boring is not the same as trivial.
In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience-that is more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks-has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value. As Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter recently put it, “Convenience decides everything.” Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences. For instant before I preferred to brew my coffee in the morning, but now Starbucks instant is so convenient that I hardly ever do what I “prefer”. Easy is better, easiest is best.
Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After for example you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. To resists convenience-not to own a cell phone, not to use Google-has come to require a special kind of dedication that is often taken for eccentricity, if not fanaticism. For all its influence as a shaper of individual decisions, the greater power of convenience may arise from decisions made in aggregate, where it is doing so much to structure the modern economy. Particularly in tech-related industries, the battle for convenience is the battle for industry dominance.
Americans say they prize competition, a proliferation of choices, the little guy. Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit.
The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes-and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. It is as simple as that but at the same time a dead cycle to competition. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows but at the same time in the long run this can’t be in consumer’s interest.
Given the growth of convenience-as an idea, as a value, as a way of life-it is worth asking what our fixation with it is doing to us and to our consumer world and the world in general. I don’t want to suggest that convenience is a force for evil. Making things easier isn’t wicked. On the contrary, it often opens up possibilities that once seemed too onerous to contemplate, and it typically makes life less arduous, especially for those most vulnerable to its life’s drudgeries.
But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. My grandfather for example who already passed away in 1995 taught me lessons such as: “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic, it takes sweat, determination and hard work” and that “success is the result of perfection, learning from failure, loyal and persistence.” The same understanding and knowledge was handed over and given to my father who over the years took a bigger part and role in his children’s business cycles and he taught us similar lessons like; “Growth is a process of experimentation, a series of trials, errors, and occasional victories. The failed experiments that work and that mankind greatest weakness lies in giving up.” He said to us that the most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. Putting all of this into consideration we have to seriously asked us if such kind of level of convenience is to free us for does it become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us. It would be perverse to embrace inconvenience as a general rule. But when we let convenience decide everything, we most probably surrender too much.
Convenience as we now know, it is a product of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when labor-saving devices for the home were invented and marketed. Milestone include the invention of the first “convenience foods”, such as canned pork and beans and Quaker Quick Oats; the first electric clothes washing machines; cleaning products like Old Dutch scouring powder; and other marvels including the electric vacuum cleaner, instant cake mix and the microwave oven. Convenience was the household version of another late 19th century idea, industrial efficiency, and its accompanying “scientific management.” It represented the adaptation of the ethos of the factory to domestic life. However mundane it seems now, convenience, the great liberator of humankind from labor, was a utopian ideal. By saving time and eliminating drudgery, it would create the possibility of leisure. And with leisure would come the possibility of devoting time to learning, hobbies or whatever else might really matter to us. Convenience would make available to the general population the kind of freedom for self-cultivation once availability only to the aristocracy. In this way convenience would also be the great leveler. This idea-convenience as liberation-could be intoxicating. Its headiest depictions are in the science fiction and futurist imaginings of the mid 20th century. From magazines like Popular Mechanics and from goofy entertainments like “The Jetsons” we learned that life in the future would be perfectly convenient. Food would be prepared with the push of a button. Moving sidewalks would do away with the annoyance of walking. Clothes would clean themselves or perhaps self-destruct after a day’s wearing. The end of the struggle for existence could at last be contemplated.
The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it and leave these tasks for example through artificial intelligence to robots who will be capable of handling such physical work for us in the future?
Perhaps our humanity is sometimes expressed in inconvenience actions and time-consuming pursuits. Perhaps this is why, with every advance of convenience, there have always been those who resist it. They resist out of stubbornness, yes and because they have the luxury to do so, – but also because they see a threat to their sense of who they are, to their feeling of control over things that matter to them accordingly to our studies in our in-house laboratory “Deep-Mind”.
By the late 1960’s, the first convenience revolution had begun to sputter. The prospect of total convenience no longer seemed like society’s greatest aspiration. Convenience meant conformity. The counterculture was about people’s need to express themselves, to fulfill their individual potential, to live in harmony with nature rather than constantly seeking to overcome its nuisances. Playing the guitar was not convenient. Neither was growing one’s own vegetables or making one’s own clothes. But such things were seen to have value nevertheless-or rather, as a result. People were looking for individuality again. Accordingly to our research it was inevitable, then, that the second wave of convenience technologies-the period we are living in-would co-opt this ideal. Therefore in our future business models we have to integrate convenience individuality. And that is on what our “Deep-Mind Laboratory” is focused on. In our opinion we will go back to the time where people were making one’s own, individual clothes again-but with the technicality of the 21st century like for example 3-D printing and with a preview of you wearing these clothes with the support of virtual reality.
You might date the beginning of this period to the advent of the Sony Walkman 1979. With the Walkman we can see a subtle but fundamental shift in the ideology of convenience. If the first convenience revolution promised to make life and work easier for you, the second promised to make it easier to be you. The new technologies were catalysts of selfhood. They conferred efficiency on self-expression.
Consider the man of the early 1980’s, strolling down the street with his Walkman and earphones. He is enclosed in an acoustic environment of his choosing. He is enjoying, out in public, the kind of self-expression he once could experience only in his private den. A new technology is making it easier for him to show who he is, if only at the time to himself. He struts around the world, the star of his own movie-back to the future. So alluring is the vision that it has come to dominate our existence. Most of the powerful and important technologies created over the past few decades deliver convenience in the service of personalization and individuality-and there is still room and space for more through the 4th industrial revolution like virtual reality, blockchain technology or artificial intelligence for example. Go back and think about the VCR, the playlist, the Facebook page, the Instagram account. This kind of convenience is no longer about saving physical labor-many of us don’t do much of that anyway. It is about minimizing the mental resources the mental exertion, required to choose among the options that express ourselves and that is what Inventive Ventures with its business portfolio will try to change and to positively influence.
Convenience is one-click, one-stop shopping, the seamless experience of “plug and play”. The ideal is personal preference with no effort. We are willing to pay a premium for convenience, of course-more than we often realize we are willing to pay. During the late 1990s, for example, technologies of music distribution like Napster made it possible to get music online at no cost, and lots of people availed themselves of the option. But though it remains easy to get music free, no one really does it anymore. Why? Because the introduction of the iTunes store in 2003 made buying music even more convenient than illegally downloading it. Convenient beat out free-just amazing.
As task after task becomes easier, the growing expectation of convenience exerts a pressure in everything else to be easy or get left behind. We are spoiled by immediacy and become annoyed by tasks that remain at the old level of effort and time. When you can skip the line and buy concert tickets on your phone, waiting in line to vote in an election is irritating. This is especially true for those who have never had to wait in lines which may help explaining the low rate at which young people vote and taking democracy for granted.
The paradoxical truth I’m driving at is that today’s technologies of individualization are technologies of individualization are technologies of mass individualization driven by maximizing profits. Customization can be surprisingly homogenizing, but that is exactly where Inventive Ventures is looking at-customization and individualization because this is today’s market riche. Everyone, or nearly everyone, is on Facebook: It is the most convenient way to keep track of your friends and family, who in theory should represent what is unique about you and your life. Yet Facebook seems to make us all the same. Its format and conventions strip us of all but the most superficial expression of individuality, such as which particular photo of a beach or mountain range we select as our background image. That’s not really impressive to me and therefore Inventive Ventures will come up with its own, more individual ideas in this field as well.
I do not want to deny that making things easier can serve us in important ways, giving us many choices for example of restaurants, taxi services, open-source encyclopedias which makes all perfect sense to me and where we used to have only a few or none. But being a person is only partly about having and exercising choices. This is why Inventive Ventures has initiated a “members club” where people who share our ideas and opinions can work together in our “brainfactory” to make changes happen. It is also about how we face up to situations that are thrust upon us, about overcoming worthy challenges and finishing difficult tasks-the struggles that help make us who we are. This is why we are insisting at Inventive Ventures that there are no secrets in terms of individual tactics or benefits in our teams; they share everything they know to achieve the upmost possible result on the task. If you have teammates who consistently lift and push you up, then this particular environment will make you happy and that’s one of our major goals at Inventive Ventures. In fact you are giving yourself your best chance to achieve any kind of challenges.
So what happens to human experience when so many obstacles and impediments and requirements and preparations have been removed?
Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destinations and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. But Inventive Ventures throughout its concepts will ensure that you are not ending up at the same place you started as there is almost no skill or ability you can have that is so good that it allows you to ruin the social qualities of a team. Therefore Inventive Ventures through its members club is teaming up people and provide them with tasks which they fulfill with full pleasure and happiness.
We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides but not at Inventive Ventures where you become the change you want to see.
Convenience in our opinion has to serve something greater than itself, lest it lead only to more convenience. In the 1963 classic, “The Feminine Mystique”, Betty Friedan looked at what household technologies had done for woman and concluded that they had just created more demands.” Even with all the new labor-saving appliances”, she wrote, “the modern American housewife probably spends more time on housework than her grandmother.” When things become easier, we can seek to fill our time with more “easy” tasks. At some point, life’s defining struggles becomes the tyranny of tiny chores and petty decisions.” An unwelcome consequence of living in a world where everything is “easy” is that the only skill that matters is the ability to multitask. At the extreme, we don’t actually do anything; we only arrange what will be done which is a flimsy basis for a life.
We need to consciously embrace the inconvenient-not always, but more of the time. Nowadays individuality has come to reside in making at least some inconvenient choices. You need not churn your own butter or hunt your own meat, but if you want to be someone, you cannot allow convenience to be the value that transcends all others. Struggle is not always a problem. Sometimes as per our experience struggle is a solution. It can be the solution to the question of who you are and to what you expect from yourself.
Embracing inconvenience may sound add, but we already do it without thinking of it as such. As if to make the issue, we give other names to our inconvenience choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. These are the non-instrumental activities that help to define us. They reward us with character because they involve an encounter with meaningful resistance-with the limits of our own bodies. Successful people know that nature is testing them, and that it is not sympathetic –as in carving wood, melding raw ingredients, fixing a broken appliance, writing codes, timing waves or facing the point when the runners legs and lungs begin to rebel against him or even by solving problems.
Such activities take time, but they also give us time back. They expose us to the risk of frustration and failure, but they also can teach us some things about the world and our place in it.
So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. If you are looking for great challenges join Inventive Venture’s MembersClub as the constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands us and a life of total, efficient conformity.