Our Deadliest Addiction: Convenience

It’s All Just Too Easy

You know you’re addicted to something when you forsake logic and quality of life in order to acquire what you think you can’t live without. A crack, sex or heroin addict will give up almost anything to score. Americans didn’t invent addiction to convenience but we sure have perfected it.

I used to listen to music everyday. That makes it sound like I don’t any more and it’s kind of true. Of course, like everyone else in the modern world, I hear music everyday but I don’t really listen to it. I don’t, with intention, play music everyday. When I used to listen to music, it involved putting a vinyl disc on a turntable, a cassette in a deck or a CD in a changer. No matter how easy that seems compared to 100 years ago when listening to music meant playing it or hearing others play it, hardly anyone plays a tape, vinyl or CD anymore. We just pull out an iPhone and (yuck) earbuds, find one of thousands of songs or radio stations and listen immediately. How convenient.

But the audio? It’s an estimation of sound derived from millions of digital bits quantizing the area under a curve of a continuously variable analog sound wave that doesn’t exist in my iPhone. Real sound has been replaced with an estimation of real sound. That’s why MP3s sound so insanely crappy when compared to an analog recording. But for the sake of convenience, the convenience of being able to carry 3000 albums around in my pocket, I sacrifice what I know is better sound for immediate gratification.

As for the original function of that iPhone — telecommunication — talking to someone on the phone? For those of you who remember landlines, let me ask you this. How long would you put up with a landline that failed 10 percent of the time? How long would you keep that landline if one out of 10 times you looked at it and it said “No Service”? Or dropped a call in the middle of a sentence? You’d never put up with that. But for a cell phone, for the convenience of having it around all the time, being able to receive and make calls when driving, shopping, at the movies or church, you’ll put up with poor performance.

Convenience Food. Post-World War Two America was fertile ground for developing schemes to commercialize aspects of American life into money-making products that would explode affluence and ruin our health. Charles Mortimer, as marketing guru at General Foods, is credited with coining the term “convenience food.” At his direction, a chemist in the food giant’s research department named Al Clausi spent years developing a concoction of chemicals that would shave hours off the labor-intensive task of making a simply elegant dessert. As an Army chemist at an explosives plant during the war, Clausi knew the use of chemicals for bombs, pharmaceuticals and petroleum. Now he was tasked with using chemicals to make “food.” Experimenting with calcium acetate, pyrophosphate and orthophosphate, Clausi made history by inventing Jello-O Instant Pudding. Instead of real pudding that took hours to create, housewives could whip up a batch of General Foods’ Jello-O made from chemicals and processed food-like ingredients in just 15 minutes! How convenient!

America’s love affair with convenience food intersected perfectly with the disappearance of small, family-owned food stores like bakeries, butcher shops, granaries, and dairies as they morphed into “supermarkets”, presenting the convenience of all-in-one shopping. And rather than take a streetcar, a bus or walking, we’d drive a car, drawn by “convenient parking.”

Microwaved into obesity. Packaging chemically-processed food commodities into frozen “TV Dinners,” canned soups and lunch meats removed nutrients, added chemicals and lavished convenience on the addicted masses. More time to enjoy life by becoming sedentary watching “Bonanza” and “Leave It to Beaver” on the boob tube.

Hot Pockets, microwave popcorn and the pinnacle of laziness, Lunchables, were soon to follow. Academics have since pointed out that the introduction of the microwave oven, leading to an avalanche of convenience, exactly parallels the steady rise in waistline girth and obesity. Not causality perhaps, but ironic coincidence.

Now we’d rather conveniently poison weeds (and ourselves) rather than pull them. Who would buy a car without power windows or a remote starter? Wash dishes? Hah!

And where it hits us most is in healthcare. Americans choose the quick-fix joint replacement or surgery over physical therapy or rehab. It’s… convenient. Make the effort to cut sugar and trim that belly fat? Why bother when liposuction works. Take responsibility for health or the time to let acupuncture, herbals or yoga heal you? Nuh uh. Gimme a pill, doc. Reorganize life and diet to lower blood pressure? Heart disease? Even though the Ornish Program with diet and lifestyle change has an 87 percent success rate at reversing coronary disease without drugs or surgery, Americans opt for a bypass or stent. We’re living an inconvenient truth.

Gotta go. Headed to Homers for the new Jack White vinyl.

Be well.

posted at 09:57 am
on Thursday, June 19th, 2014

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