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November 15, 2019

Is Convenience Really Such a Good Thing?

A shopaholic since I was old enough to walk, I used to like nothing more than to spend countless hours roaming around the mall.

As a teenager, I worked at a local mall, and when I wasn’t working, I hung out there with my friends. I got married and had kids, but not to worry. Into the minivan and the stroller and off to the mall I would go. When my youngest was born, she took her first mall trip at about a week old. Don’t tell my husband, but she actually could have been a couple of days younger than that.

But now, who needs the mall to shop when I have a 24-hour “Mall of Julie” at my fingertips. A new dress? No problem. An evening scroll through the Nordstrom app sipping a glass of wine on my couch and a few choices are boxed and on my doorstep to try on in a couple of days. I keep the one I like, stuff the others back into the box, drop it back on my doorstep and back they go. No lines, cash registers, or dressing rooms. Groceries, new sneakers, maybe a new blender? Amazon, Amazon, and Amazon. All ordered with a few clicks and they are in my hands sometimes within hours and a quick ten-step walk to my front door. 

My life has become easy. It is convenient. 

As terrific as all of that sounds, however, I have come to the conclusion that this pervasive and ever-growing blanket of convenience is harming us each and every minute of every day. And none of us seems to realize it.

Have you been to Starbucks lately? Just in case it was too taxing on us to wait in line for three or four minutes to get a morning coffee, we can now download the Starbucks App that allows you to place your coffee order and pays for it from your phone, so you can slip into a local shop, grab your cup and go. All without almost any human contact whatsoever.

As I’ve already said, this convenience overload doesn’t just come from Starbucks. Convenience is taking away our connection to others; it’s insidiously replacing human contact. Sure, you save a few minutes by ordering coffee remotely. But don’t we lose much more? Should it really be such an inconvenience to take a moment, talk to someone in line or even at the register? And God forbid we should actually sit down with our coffee and catch up with a friend or neighbor about kids, jobs, the weather or anything else for that matter.

From a therapist’s perspective, it is concerning that our society is moving at breakneck speed toward immaculate convenience, not leaving our homes and instead opting for things to be fast and efficient at the cost of interacting, connecting, and having real human contact with others. We know through research that human beings are much like other species on the earth — we yearn for contact with others — our need to maintain relationships is as fundamental as our need for food and water. 

I see many clients of all ages who are very active video gamers. Before millions of households had X-Box, Nintendo or PlayStation, we had to make phone calls, ride our bikes, or knock on doors to find some people — real, standing in front of us people — to participate and play games. We had to gather friends, other kids or adults, find a blacktop for basketball or four square, a field for football or volleyball or red rover. Not anymore. Turn on your TV or computer, and a world of memes and virtual friends are beaming right back at you.  

It won’t be long until we will never need to leave our homes. Millions already sit at home and “telecommute” for work. Already, our groceries, our clothes — anything we need is a click and a couple of days away from being delivered to our front door. We can earn degrees at our kitchen table, taking classes on line. Want to be a champion without leaving your couch? Sit there for hours and bone up on Fortnight. Books are delivered to our e-readers.  

Movies, TV shows — whatever entertainment we need is right here at home. Exercise? No problem. Hop on your Pelaton bike and do a virtual class. Don’t feel like cooking? Call Uber-eats. Groceries? Not a problem. Peapod will have your milk and eggs in your fridge within a few hours.  And trust me — as soon as Starbucks figures out how to have that hot cup of coffee or mocha latte ready exactly when we want so we don’t have to move, go anywhere, or see anyone to get it, there wont be any more lines at the coffee shop that the app was created to help you avoid in the first place.

Julie Bulitt, LCSW-C, is a licensed clinical social worker, having worked for more than 25 years with individuals, couples and families. Her private practice focuses on family, couples, and individual therapy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and executive functioning coaching.  She presently serves as the in-house therapist for The Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her new book, THE 5 CORE CONVERSATIONS FOR COUPLES is co-authored with her husband, a Maryland divorce lawyer, and will be published by Skyhorse Publishing and Simon & Schuster e-books in February, 2020.

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