Tim Wu wrote about The Tyranny of Convenience last week in the New York Times. Too much convenience can make us less resilient to the trials which often present themselves.
For the most part, we no longer need to grow our own food, hunt and gather, make clothing, or build a shelter. Tasks that required much of our ancestors time have become conveniences for myself and most of you reading this. We need only drive from our heated houses, in our heated cars, to the climate controlled grocery or department store to get what we deem to be necessary, much of which didn’t exist a few hundred years ago.
While ease and comfort have in many ways improved our lives, too much convenience may be at the root of our discontent and distraction. No longer concerned with the imperative need to survive we struggle to find worthy uses of our time. Convenience has created an abundance of leisure time. Leisure time can quickly degrade becoming idle time if one hasn’t a specific purpose. Idleness creates discomfort. Discomfort can contribute to depression.
Tim provided the affirmation I all too often need for the choices I make, for the way of life I’ve chosen. A way of life that from the outside appears to offer less conveniences. While I may have given up plumbing, central heating, and a fridge full of beer and condiments, I gave these up to acquire more leisure time. I chose to reduce the overhead (out of pocket costs) of certain conveniences in order to focus on what is more personally essential. Or, at the very least, focus less on the things I know aren’t essential.
The conveniences of our modern society had made me soft. I realized just how much time I spent trying to keep myself in a state of ease and comfort. I adopted ways of living that weren’t really important to me, but rather dictated by what has become our norm. I was spending much of my physical time and mental energy trying to attain things and live in a way that aligned with the lives of my neighbors, friends, and peers. The problem was it didn’t align with my core values.
By no means am I opposed to conveniences. Frankly, dirty public restrooms, doubling up sleeping bags to stay warm through the night, infrequent showers, rodent house guests, no kitchen, and living hunched over much of the time, can suck. If we had the financial means we’d likely be in an apartment for the winter. Currently, we’re splurging on a hotel room to stretch out and re-energize. While this lifestyle has it’s downsides like any other, reinserting myself back into the mainstream scares me. While conveniences softened me, I’m not certain living in the van has hardened me enough to resist the life of ease. I fear again falling into the trappings of eating crap from the convenience store, becoming numb to Netflix binges, spending too much time tethered to my computer, and skipping Nature because it’s warm and cozy inside.
Living in the van has allowed for a different type of convenience and ease. It creates a convenience of distance. I’ve placed myself beyond the reach of those trappings. I’ve also placed myself closer to Nature and eliminated some of what had impeded my pursuit of more time outside.
I’m convinced the sweet spot to living better is somewhere between the way we are currently doing it and the way we lived prior to embarking on this journey. I recognize the value, and have a greater appreciation for, the conveniences which simplify the essential tasks of life. Those conveniences being a toilet, kitchen, room to stand, heat, and a place to hangout or call home. (It’s difficult to hangout in the van because it is small and cold, this leaves us wandering a bit in the afternoons looking for a warm place to read, talk, and kill time before dinner and bed.) I also realize the importance for myself to live close to Nature, exposed to the sun, and without many of the distractions that I allow to consume my time.
Well, I’m heading to the grocery store conveniently located across the street and then I’ll attempt to navigate through the channels on this TV. Who determined we needed the convenience of 600 plus channels?
Until next week…