The Purpose of Convenience

I‘ve apparently been behind the curve lately. The Amazon Dash button was released, and I just found out about it last week. Everyone I spoke to had heard about it, so I have no idea how it had passed me by.

As I stared at the computer screen, wordlessly ogling the $5 gadget, I started to feel a deep dread well up within me. I wasn’t sure exactly what bothered me so much about the button. It seemed innocuous enough, but a quick DuckDuckGo search confirmed that I was not alone in my disgust.

The New Yorker heralded the tongue-in-cheek advertising, the fact that it was released the day before April fools, and the recent ad campaigns by Amazon as a sly aside to the fact that this was really just a prank, albeit a useful one that was making Amazon money.

For those of you who don’t feel like watching the above ad (kudos for being the perfect combo of lazy and resistant to indoctrination), the Amazon Dash button is a tiny mechanism that has the singular function to order one specific item. So, say you need more toilet paper and you’ve run out. Good news! Just push the button located conveniently by your toilet paper holder and Amazon will process an order for you immediately. It’s really a wonder of modern civilization.

Amazon is even taking it a bit further by working with Whirlpool and other appliance companies to create automated ordering machines, like dishwashers that automatically reorder soap based on time elapsed and washing cycles. You won’t even need to think about the inane chores that accompany a massively consumerist society – it’s kind of perfect.

I had a lot of arguments over the past week while I tried to determine what made me so upset about the whole concept. One person suggested that I was just finally understanding the older generation, finding my curmudgeonliness at long last. Others suggested that I was just hyping it up and that it really wasn’t such a dystopian sign. Still others suggested I was thinking too much about it, the old adage of anti-intellectualism I tend to just let float on by.

But I kept plowing forward, thinking about the concepts that I had already internalized about human motivation, attempting to uncover the root cause. Tech support runs deep in these veins.

Finally, about my 6th or 7th conversation, I put the pieces together.

Connect the Dots
Or connected the dots, whatever.

There was a sense of understanding about the reticence of the older generation to adopt new technologies. Here’s the thing; I enjoy shopping for groceries. A lot. It’s probably my favorite activity. And the Amazon dash button was something that could take away the natural joy I felt in completing a simple task for myself. It made me think of my grandmother refusing to get a cell phone because of how much she enjoys writing letters to people. True, cell phones are used for many different things and she does sacrifice a lot of convenience, but she does not sacrifice the innate joy of doing simple work, which I believe is a necessary human motivation.

Simple human work is very fulfilling. There is something in the unique blend of achievability and the dopamine related to completion that causes our animal minds to feel contented in a way our more abstract modern lives cannot always fulfill.

There’s a beautiful heuristic belief at Homestead Heritage, an intentional living community in Waco, Texas that grows, builds, and creates all the necessities of living from within their community, that shares the reason for their relationship to crafting.

To paraphrase, they believe that having a hand in their craft connects them to others, and gives their life a direct purpose. They choose to craft, say a chair, rather than buy, even though it is much cheaper and faster to simply consume. There is an intentional slowness, an intentional relationship to all of the items they use on a daily basis, that makes their life filled with community. It’s truly beautiful to behold, and despite my high-tech lifestyle, I have long harbored a love and longing for such a connection to the objects around me.

Fiber Crafts
Dr. Kay Toombs, pictured above, a close friend and master crafter.

In this way, I do relate to an older generation refusing to adopt technology. But not because I am afraid, not because it threatens me. No, I refuse because the original way of doing things fulfills me, and I would gladly continue to participate in my rituals of living rather than outsource and alienate them to the forge of innovation and convenience.

Convenience itself is one of the greatest human motivators, but it should never take the place of our simple satisfying work. Instead, that drive in us should be used to refine processes of work, so that they become the most enjoyable that they can be, the most beautiful that they can be, the most fulfilling that they can be. Like gold, like truth, our need for convenience purifies our actions until the thing that remains is pure, perfect, and refined to the highest quality.

The Amazon dash button deeply bothers me because it seeks to remove our simple work, and not to refine it. Convenience and Simple Work are two sides of the same coin, but we should never forget the aims of both of these goals – to give us purpose.

If you like what you read, feel free to share. Basic Rules: Be civil. We are all people and deserve respect. That’s a hard and fast rule, by the way, it is not optional. Other than that, anything goes.

Interested in many things, but nothing captivates more than technology, entrepreneurship, futurism, and humanity's quest to problem-solve.