Convenience has been the name of the game since the 1950s, when a booming postwar economy combined with capitalists ready to make a dollar off the boon of others spawned an entire fleet of neat, useless appliances. For example, a pasta strainer that seasons the noodles after they drain, an orange peeler with a built-in splash guard or anything that promises to “end the hassle” of an easy but tedious activity. That’s not to say no viable inventions came out of this time period, because I know I use my microwave more than occasionally (that device must have sounded ludicrous when it first debuted). However, these strange ultra-specific devices (and their Slap Chop descendants) have become a staple of the new American dream: convenience. This is reflected in many ways, such as the title of the Dead Kennedys’ greatest hits album, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.
The development of our technology contributes to this change. For instance, during this season about 100 years ago, fewer people would be worrying about the annoyance of having to scrape their windshields, and more would be ensuring their winter food supply was ready in case a blizzard trapped them inside for a month. It’s interesting how the majority has put food under the “granted” category, even at three in the morning. Thank you, 24-hour grocery establishments for that paradigm-shifting effect.
Let’s not talk about a century ago, since some might discredit it as an absurd comparison. 20 years ago, it was 1992. Car phones cost a fortune, so most people just had landlines, and computers in almost all homes were not wired to the Internet. No wonder the violence in that decade skyrocketed. Seriously, when compared to the totally connected state of 2012, it sounds like dark times. However, people did not have the crutches then that many of us think we need today, especially when it comes to entertainment and communication. Let’s take a walk through the day of a young adult in 1992 (hereafter known as Curtis).
After waking up to an alarm clock (they were big back then, trust me), Curtis starts his day with a manual toothbrush and a spool of floss. Already this is unrecognizable to many. Next he tunes in to the morning news on local TV to find out the events of the day. After he gets tired of that, Curtis calls the home of his friend to see what he’s up to today. Inefficient and slow, isn’t it? Or does it just move at a different pace? Curtis dons a grey pocket T-shirt and drives over, after confirming his friend is there, and they spend a couple hours hanging out at the house before heading outside. Totally unbelievable, except it’s not.
How do many people, doing this very same physical interaction instead of connecting mostly through social networks and text messages, find strange pleasure in the simple company of their friend without distractions? How many prefer the unplugged hangout to a sterile, controlled IM window and emoticons? The convenience is nice, but sometimes it just distracts from the point of having friends.
Tyson Nafus is a junior studying sociology and can be emailed at [email protected]