Convenience: At What Cost?

Early this morning -- after drinking a cup of chai tea to combat the cooler temperatures and teaching a hot yoga class -- I stopped for gas. 

Almost immediately, once I stepped out of the car, punched the necessary buttons and heard the tank guzzling, I pulled out my phone and started scrolling.

And then I thought: wait. What am I doing right now? What do I feel compelled to "check" -- Facebook and Instagram? My work email at 7:15 a.m.? The weather? My text messages? What, exactly?

Nothing important, that's what. I had no reason to be on my phone, so I put it down, and looked around, and noticed.

The smell of gas surrounding early morning commuters like me checking an errand off their to-do list in order to get where they needed to go.

The brisk wind cutting across my face as I shivered in my hoodie and dried sweat, thinking about how amazing a hot shower would feel in a few minutes.

The blue, blue sky lighting up with the sun, just in front of a downtown skyline. 

A new Taco Bell with a sign that said, "Don't want to stand in line? Order ahead!"

And I laughed.

Because who is so desperate for their TB fix that they need to call ahead, so that they don't have to wait five minutes in the drive-through or check-out line?! It's fast food, people! What's next -- groceries you can order online and have delivered to your door? Showing up at Starbucks only to pick up your coffee order placed 15 minutes ago?

Oh wait. Ha.

Trust me, I love the convenience of the world we live in. I get frustrated as hell when I go to pay a bill online and have to literally call a customer service representative to deal with an issue (FYI if you provide online bill bay, it should actually WORK; I'm just saying). I live for Amazon Prime and Hulu. I like the quickness of email and texting.

Sometimes, though, I wonder -- doesn't all this efficiency occasionally negate free-standing opportunities to think and connect? Sure, conveniences save time and even money. But at what cost?

There are many articles about our collective addiction to fast-paced, give it to me now, everything, especially at the intersection of commerce and technology. Sherry Turkle, a writer and researcher who studies the psychology of online connectivity, recently published a piece called "Stop Googling, Let's Talk," which has a profound message about the negative impact of multitasking while conversing with others. 

In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.
— Sherry Turkle

Sherry also recently did an interview with Jenny Rosenstratch from Dinner: A Love Story, and there are some powerful, valuable quotes in there, such as: 

Empathy is in crisis. It’s a skill. You learn it. You’re born having the capacity for it, but you’re not born with an empathy ‘chip.’ Or if you’re born with a chip, it needs to be allowed to unfold and practiced. It’s in family conversation where children go through the exercise of learning to put themselves in other peoples’ shoes, and it’s often the shoes of the sibling. When a sibling says this is what’s the matter, you get to hear what’s the matter, you get to hear what the sibling is saying and how he or she is saying it. All these things are key for developing empathy.

. . . If it’s not practiced, then you don’t learn that eye contact is the way to see how someone is feeling, and that face-to-face conversation is how you connect with someone. You don’t learn how to listen and take turns. You don’t learn to let someone speak their piece, and you don’t learn to be interested. Maybe it makes you anxious to listen? That’s ok! Listen some more — that’s a value. It’s through family conversations where you learn that all kinds of feelings are both acceptable and interesting. They don’t have to be hidden, they don’t have to be denied. What matters is that they’re there.
— Sherry Turkle

(Check it, and Sherry's new book, out ASAP.)

There are many moments throughout my day where I feel the urge to fill up silence or solitude with a screen, and lately, I'm trying to pause. Options to move faster, skip the line, order without interruption, avoid contact with a human being . . . they're all around us, if we want them. I'm tempted, lots of times, but here's what I know:  I get one life, and I want to pay attention to it -- not rush through it -- whenever possible. 

So yeah, I stood quietly this morning for 5 minutes while pumping gas. I looked around. I noticed some itty-bitty things about my surroundings. I considered my day. I came home, talked to my husband, pet my dog, made breakfast, got ready for work, and then walked into an actual coffee shop before heading to the office. 

And I didn't mind the line at all.