top of page

A Convenient Trap

A typical household washes some 300 loads of laundry per year. Today, a typical washing machine cycle lasts about 40 minutes. That ends up being about 8.33 days’ worth of washing done per year per household. Does that seem like a lot? Consider that before the invention of the electric washing machine, a typical load of laundry took about 4 hours to complete. While laundry wasn’t washed as often before the invention of the electric washing machine, consider how long it would take to do 300 loads of laundry at 4 hours per load. 50 days. Also factor in the hard labor that was required for laundry. Today, we do some bending over and lifting clothes; before the electric washing machine, you usually had to manually heat your own water, use strong soap that destroyed your hands, and employ manual labor devices like washboards, paddles, and plungers. Not exactly pleasant.

Why the commentary on laundry? It felt like a fresh and clean way to highlight modern day conveniences. Laundry used to take us six times as long per load to complete. You are now spending approximately 200 minutes less per load of laundry than your ancestors. Here’s the important question: what are you doing with those 200 minutes?

It seems obvious to say that the average American today is required to spend far less time on the things necessary for living than they did 50 or 100 years ago. There is a machine available for almost anything you need done and a method to automate that machine has either been implemented or is currently being researched. Life has become more convenient than most anyone could have imagined 100 years ago.

Convenience. That sounds like a good pursuit. If living was more convenient, we should be able to live better than ever, right? And in many ways, we do. Life expectancies are high, rates of absolute poverty continue to plummet globally, and opportunities abound; but at the same time, rates of human satisfaction continue to fall, mental illnesses proliferate, crime rates rise, and more people view the future with pessimism than ever before. And remember those 200 minutes per load of laundry we were saving? Where did those go? Have you ever tried to schedule a get together with a group of people? No one ever has any time. Despite all the time-saving conveniences we employ, we seem to have less time available than ever.

Is convenience itself to blame? Perhaps in part. Too often, we pursue convenience without any thought to potential consequences. We sometimes perceive convenience as a solution only, with no downsides. As Thomas Sowell once said, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” What are the trade-offs to pursuing convenience? I can think of at least three to begin with.

The first deals with the nature of convenience. By its nature, convenience requires less of the individual. Less thought, less work, less ability; in short, less effort. What are the consequences of reducing the amount of required effort individuals must expend? On the one hand, as noted above, life becomes much simpler; and sometimes safer. On the other hand, effort is required for individual growth. You cannot improve yourself without effort. Convenience doesn’t remove effort from life – one can still voluntarily engage in effort filled ventures as they seek self-improvement – it does, however, remove its necessity in many cases. When effort because voluntary rather than mandatory, how can individuals be convinced to participate? What will motivate them to engage in hard work that isn’t apparently necessary for survival?

The second trade-off follows from that question. In removing the necessity for hard work, convenience also reduces personal satisfaction. Personal satisfaction largely comes from individuals expending effort in a quest for achievement. If the roof on your home needed to be redone, you could hire out the work or do it yourself. Neither decision is right or wrong, but both have good and bad consequences. If you hire it out, you will most likely get individuals who are experienced in the work replacing your roof and it will be very convenient for you. You may be able to use that time to do something else important. If you do the work yourself, you may gain a lot of knowledge that you didn’t have before and gain the personal satisfaction of having completed something quite difficult. The consequences from doing the work yourself include a loss of convenience and the consequences of hiring out the work include not gaining personal satisfaction in your own efforts. If everything becomes convenient, where can we find personal satisfaction?

The third trade-off due to convenience is the loss of personal freedom. By its nature, convenience encourages reliance on others. Self-reliance becomes unnecessary. There is always someone or something that could do what you used to have to do yourself. When the personal knowledge that used to be needed to complete tasks becomes unnecessary because someone else or something else is doing the work, that knowledge fades. What began as a convenience, suddenly becomes a necessity. Either individuals have come to rely so heavily on the convenience that they cannot live without it (see emails and cell phones), or individuals have lost the personal ability to function without the convenience. In both cases, personal freedom is sacrificed at the altar of convenience. Sometimes, conveniences are the result of the work of hundreds or thousands of people over years of time and have become too complex for any one individual to manage themselves. If you have come to rely entirely on the conveniences in your life, how much freedom do you really have?

Discussing the consequences of convenience is not a call for all conveniences to end. A lot of good comes from many of the ways we’ve used to improve our lives; we just need to willingly discuss the good and bad consequences to help ensure that the trade-offs don’t create more problems than we solved with the solution. A mindless pursuit of convenience will result in furthering the apathy, dissatisfaction and loss of self-reliance that are so prevalent in the world today.

Given all the convenience in the world today, what steps can we take to counter some of the consequences?

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that the extensive conveniences we enjoy today require an increase of self-control for each person. No longer required to spend our entire lives employed in only the activities necessary for survival, we must use that extra time wisely. We will have to consciously choose to pursue difficult tasks that will help us grow. We will have to use our time intentionally. We’ve been given an incredible blessing to not have to spend an extra 200 minutes per load of laundry. We should show our gratitude for that by engaging in work. Something purposeful that will help others and brings us the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment. Convenience can be a wonderful blessing as well as an unexpected trap. It all depends on how you use it.

“Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. [That is because] there is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

-C. S. Lewis

“To every man there comes … that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”

-Winston Churchill


At Believe, we are working to build a community of people who are willing to build good in the world. We would love to have you join us. The world may never be the same. 

34 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page