“Convenience always wins”
This is a phrase I frequently hear and it’s supported with ample evidence. Digital music distribution killing physical sales, VHS beating Beta (despite being the poorer quality), email vs. snail mail, Netflix threatening movie theaters, Ordering in vs. cooking, and so on ad infinitum.
If this is true then what exactly is convenience winning? Is it a war between a life of physical burden and the soaring of the human spirit? Or is it something else entirely?
I was pondering this and many other things one day as I was searching through titles on Netflix for something to watch. As often happens I couldn’t find anything I was willing to sacrifice two hours of my time for. This happens too often. It also happens with music. I have all the music in the world at my fingertips and I find myself listening to the same stuff 99% of the time. Why? It has puzzled me for some time.
Then I realized it, it’s the convenience, the more convenient a thing is the less it matters and the less it matters the less I’m willing to invest my time in it. This may seem obvious to some but to me it was a mini revelation.
I started to look at all the convenient things around me and realized their omnipresence: Comfort food, convenience stores, Spotify, iTunes, Netflix, Seamless, IKEA, Facebook, and all the rest of mass culture and standardization that washes over me constantly from all directions. They’re not all the same kind of convenience but in some way the ease of access, the commonality or their convenience renders them all insignificant.
This is the part where I’m gonna sound old, but I’ll risk it (it’s not really a risk, I am old, 45). When I started buying music I had to work hard to get the music I wanted. Not only did I need to have the money to fork out for album, I had to take the bus, go downtown, find the album, buy it and bring it home. You can see how much value has been built into that album by the time I put the needle down on it for the first time at home. And that value made me very selective about the music I bought.
Same thing with movies. It was a big deal to go see a movie so the decision was made with care and thought. It was at most a once a week experience, a lot of times only once a month or less, and I didn’t want to waste it on a movie I wouldn’t like so I made sure to do my research. Read reviews and listen to recommendations from friends.
Then why is the selection process for me more difficult now that I have all the choices in the world right in front of me?
I think it comes down to this: It is sometimes said that desperation is the mother of all invention. I don’t know that I fully agree with that but I do believe that you could say the opposite about convenience, that it’s the killer of invention (or creative thinking). I am not motivated to utilize all the choices in front of me because it’s too easy and it makes me indifferent.
So if the sentence above “Convenience always wins” is true, then who is the winner?
Hard work has value in itself and my scouring through bins and talking to the guy at the record store is an investment I made that was justified with the product I brought home. Not every record was genius, there were many failures. But the failures were meaningful, I learned from them, and I gave the records a chance, I would listen to them a few times to convince myself that I had indeed given them a fair chance. I made sure my investment had been given a run for its money.
Today it’s too easy to simply skip through songs that don’t catch me right away, I don’t feel compelled to give that song or artist another break. If the preview or the logline of a movie don’t instantly catch me I’m not likely to give it a chance. If a headline on the internet doesn’t speak deeply to me I’m not going to click on it. The cultural currency of our times seems to have plummeted towards a bottom that’s nowhere in sight.
It’s hard to see the winner here. It’s certainly not the creator of the content (if content is what we’re talking about), it’s not really the consumer because we become de-sensitized to everything that washes over us. Maybe there’s a different way to ask the question, namely: Is Convenience King or Villain?
It depends on how you look at it. Convenience is certainly king for mass consumerism (capitalism) but it’s a villain for original and creative thinking. If it’s too easy there’s no need for creativity.
But there is a silver lining and it goes back to the idiom that desperation is the mother of all invention. What drives creative people of all sorts (including me) is problem solving. When faced with a problem of media saturation and indifference authors and content creators embrace new ideas. VR and AR is an example in the current stream of ideas. These are cutting edge ways to tell stories, they rely on proprietary technology and together tech–invention and the need for a new way to tell a story are pushing creativity and storytelling into new territories.