When did we begin to value convenience over relationship? I had a thought the other day about selfies. I was actually thinking about cameras, and then I started thinking about other ways that we use the things we have to live our lives in the now normal of today. So many inventions in the past 30 years have added to our convenience culture. We are buying products that we believe help us save time and reduce overall consumption/clutter, but this is coming at the expense of the most important human need – relationship. Convenience causes disconnect. Let’s look at some items that are staples in our every day lives to see if this is true.
- Cameras – Remember cameras before smart phones? They looked similar to the cameras that we have today, except everyone had one and they weren’t reserved for hobby enthusiasts or pro photographers. Cameras were how everyone captured still shot memories. Now we have phones for this. Our phones make it super easy to take pics of anything we want, all the time, especially of ourselves. If there ever was a “selfie” before cell phones, it required one missing element – another person. If you wanted a photo of yourself or of you with someone else, you had to ask another person to take it. Yes, there were self timers but that’s not really something you saw anyone using if they wanted a quick photo with a friend in a restaurant or public space. The default was to ask someone else to take it for you. The default was to make a quick, but real, human connection.
- Music – streaming services allow us to have access to an everlasting playlist. There is no longer a need for CDs, tapes, or records. No one mulls around the music store reading the back cover of CDs, or for my parents’ generation – vinyls. No one is chit chatting with someone else in the same genre aisle as they are.
I can’t remember the last time I listened to live radio. Even though, it seems we have MORE music from less objects, we’ve lost the nostalgia of connecting with others through music. Before streaming, new music was heard on live radio with a live DJ who spoke about the artist and new releases. We were listening to real time people speaking in dialogue other than advertisements. Yes, there were commercials, but that wasn’t ALL we were hearing. If you wanted to hear a song, you called the radio station to make a request. If you wanted a new album, you drove to the store and purchased it from a cashier.
And if you were lucky, every now and then your favorite song would be on the radio and you’d pull up next to someone at the stop light blaring it just as loud as you were and y’all’ed have a moment of Rock Band before the light turned green. Just me? Anyway, point being is if you wanted to listen to music the default was at some point a real human connection had to be made.
- Video Games – my children love video games. I am from the generation of the first Nintendo and Sega Genesis. For most of my life, it has been possible to play video games alone. When you think about it, it could seem like video games have been self isolating for some time. I remember my friend could play Zelda for hours and I know I put in a lot of alone time into Super Mario Bros. We haven’t changed how we play video games alone, but more so how we play video games with other people.
Before the internet, if I wanted to play a game with someone else, that person had to physically be in the room with me. We yelled and celebrated with each other. Now, you can play games online with 100s of other people that you never see, hear, or meet. There is an illusion of a community within these games that has become a supplement for real person-to-person connection.
I can’t understand how any of these advancements in the way we do life is better, other than we have come to believe that easier is better, and connecting with anyone, any how, every how, is better than focusing on our inner circles and local community. I know it seems like missing these connections are no big deal. Like, who cares if I no longer have to go to the store to buy a physical CD and speak to a cashier. Or why does it matter if I don’t actually call to order a pizza? Most people aren’t a fan of small talk, but collectively so many of these “micro-connections” are what have taught us how to relate to other humans. It’s how we live day to day interacting with people who are NOT like us, which is so important in developing empathy for others. When we have the choice to skip living this way, we are widening the disconnection between people. Convenience doesn’t help us have less stuff, it creates a void that makes us want to fill our lives with more stuff rather than more meaningful relationships.