I didn’t have a clothes dryer until my son was born. My daughter, the first born, wore diapers that swished around in a washer on the back porch until I decided they were clean enough, put them through the wringer, and hung them outside on the clothesline. In the winter my fingers were numb by the time the diapers, stacked up like cordwood, were thawing in the basement. Laundry day was indeed a day of doing laundry.
Now don’t be rolling your eyes, this is not a tale of how I survived in the olden days, walking a mile to and from school, and not having my own radio until I was seventeen. No this is a tale of, as Tim Wu in a New York Times article called it, “The Tyranny of Convenience.”
I enjoyed the laundry-day ritual—watching the clothes roil back and forth, squeezing each wet sock through the rubber wringers, and hanging out in the fresh air, but I enthusiastically embraced the convenience of an automatic washing machine. Convenience is changing our world as surely as global warming is. Amazon has taken Walmart’s #1 Villain of the Year spot as it rolls over bookstores, fabric stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, and record stores. Gone are our face-to-face interactions with small store owners and sales clerks, no more browsing the aisles of Ace Hardware looking for that special screw, squeezing peaches to find the ripe one, and choosing just the right pair of socks by feel. Simply touch the “Buy” button, and before you can change your mind, it’s there at your front door.
Social media has eliminated the need for live, personal interactions. How many times have you watched families in a restaurant who ignore each other to connect with their smartphones? Who even uses their phone to talk anymore? And why put your shoes on, start the car, and drive somewhere to see a friend—just FaceTime or Marco Polo them?
What ever happened to just waiting? When we were at the hotel in Chicago, elevator riders couldn’t even resist the scroll while descending to the Sixth Floor. When I looked out the hotel window at pedestrians on the sidewalk below, most of them walked heads down, reading their phones, narrowly avoiding the icicles crashing down around them. Recently at our local Kaiser pharmacy, five out of six waiting members were on their phones. One grandmother-type accompanying a five year old girl brushed off her, “Look Gramma look!”, interruptions to continue playing Candy Crush.
Convenience marginalizes quality. Pouring boiling water over Starbuck’s Via is easier than brewing your coffee, but it is not as good. Using garlic powder instead of peeling and mincing a clove or two is enticingly quicker, but flavorless. Relying on Spotify to create your morning playlist is more convenient than finding a good radio station, becoming a regular listener, choosing your favorites, going to a record store, buying vinyl, returning home, and cranking up the Victrola; but something is lost in the trade.
Using Instagram’s convenient format lessens individual creativity in favor of a pre-packaged communal appearance. It takes more time to find a pencil and paper and think up a birthday card, than it does to choose from a provided template and click “Send.” Digital assistants can shop for us, read to us, lock our doors, heat or cool our houses, and order pizza. Refrigerators make automatic shopping lists, ovens turn themselves on and off without the hassle of getting off the couch, and washers can be turned on remotely with a smart phone. Who knew that Clap On Clap Off lights were cutting edge?
On the whole, convenience has liberated us from drudgery. But what we create through the individual struggle of mastering something difficult—planting a garden, balancing our checkbook, leaning to play the cello, making a quilt—is worth the challenge.
Anyways, I wanted to make good, old Iowa macaroni and pea salad for dinner the other night, but had no peas. I did have a bit of a roasted red pepper, a hard-boiled egg, a half an avocado, an overripe tomato, a few black beans, and a lot of cilantro—so Southwestern Chipotle Salad showed up instead. It’s all in the name.
Southwestern chipotle macaroni salad
- Cooked macaroni
- Diced tomato
- Diced celery, radish, or jicama (or all of the above)
- Diced fresh serrano, jalapeño, or Mrs. Renfro’s
- Diced avocado
- Diced hard-boiled egg
- Cooked corn kernels (TJ’s frozen roasted corn is perfect)
- Fine diced red onion
- Diced roasted, or not, red pepper
- Cooked black beans, rinse canned ones thoroughly or the salad will be grayish (not a good look)
- A lot of chopped cilantro