Trading Human Experiences for Convenience

Over lunch today Katie and I were talking about phonograph records and record stores. Back in Ye Olde Times we had to change the record after every song, or at least flip the record over halfway through an album. When we heard a song we liked on the radio, we might have to sit through several more songs before the announced came on and stated the name of the song and the artist. Or we might have missed it, and have to wait for the song to come on again. Then we’d have to leave the house, go to a record store, and see if they had the record. We’d talk to a helpful and knowledgeable clerk who could answer questions and make other recommendations, and was more than happy to shoot the breeze with you about music. Oh, and if anyone came into the store and started being rude about your taste in music, they’d get bounced from the place. We’ve been trading human experiences for convenience.

Today, of course, we learn about new music from the internet. We don’t need to leave our chair to find out the song title and the artist, listen to a sample to be sure it’s the right song, buy it and download it. If we don’t want to, we don’t even have to buy it, assuming there’s a video on YouTube or we’re willing to engage in an act of piracy. We never have to interact with another human being. Playlists can be created that go on for hours or days or eternally without ever having to touch anything. We can try to talk about the music we love on social media, but we’re subject to harassment from trolls who have no fear of being kicked out.

This convenience saves time and energy, so that we can… what? Spend more time watching streaming things and playing games? Has this ease and simplicity actually improved our quality of life? When the United States implemented the 40-hour workweek in 1940, it wasn’t just to allow workers to rest and thereby improve their productivity and protect their health. It was envisioned that people would use the time for family activities, hobbies, and educational and cultural pursuits. What do actually we do with that time now? Stare at screens. Which, of course, is our right, but is it really the best use of our time? Is it truly making us better people, our society stronger, and our world a better place?

I am not against progress, and I certainly take advantage of modern conveniences. What I’m challenging is the way that we take them from granted. I want us to all think about what we do, and understand why we do it. We should appreciate the things that save us time by using that extra time in more meaningful ways.

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