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Convenience Is Not A God

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

Despite what a large portion of modern corporate advertising wants you to believe, convenience is not a god. Convenience is not even a virtue. Convenience is just a rule--a rule to reduce short-term effort provided that effort is still adequate to reach your goal. Convenience is a rule in design and engineering practice. When assessing alternative designs or approaches, a designer or engineer will consider ease of implementation, aka convenience, but only after confirming that the design or engineering approach will meet top-level requirements first. In software design, for example, there are industry standards for confirming that existing code, code developed for an earlier project for instance, is suitable for use on a new project. The standards are in place because too many projects and products have failed due to inadequate software, or associated cost overruns, after programmers (or their managers) chose, for the sake of convenience, to reuse old code that was really not suitable for the project.

In the context of plastic pollution the convenience factor arises mainly for food and beverage packaging. Disposable plastic is cheap. For the end-user, why go to the trouble of carrying your own canteen, or packing your own lunchbox, when "We can just pick up some shit at 7-11." Consider how often that phrase has been uttered. It's analogous to deciding to use old software that you know is bad. Unhealthy foods and beverages are usually packed in disposable plastic because both the package and its contents are cheap. Most people don't WANT to be sick, but they rationalize that small portions of unhealthy food won't do too much damage (bugs in the bad software are probably tolerable), or that they'll make up for it later (the bad software can be rewritten after it serves a short-term purpose). If those risks aren't enough to discourage using the bad stuff, there's also the long-term risk to your brand. In the software analogy this is your customers' bad opinions of your product; in plastic-pollution terms it's everyone's bad opinions of your trashy neighborhood or your flabby waistline. Then there's the ultimate risk that choosing convenience, or "cutting corners," will cause your project or product to fail, like choosing plastic pollution will cause food- and water-security to fail. Considering all the risks, no competent designer or engineer would base a major decision on convenience alone. Without further advantages to a course of action, convenience is usually not important enough to overcome all of its implied risks.

But those who are selling convenience want you to ignore those risks. Saving money is their basic appeal, but most people recognize that going cheap now can cost them more later. To sell convenience, corporate advertising must reach deeper--it must try to elevate convenience to a virtue, or even to a god. They do so by linking convenience to a deep psychological condition from which everyone suffers from time to time: Laziness. No one will accept convenience as a god, but laziness, yes, laziness can be worshipped. Peddlers of disposable plastic hit the jackpot with their church of laziness, and it's wreaking havoc on the sustainability of our civilization. Then there's the politics of laziness, where some uncomfortable questions need to be answered, but that's the subject of another blog.

Fortunately, at its core, plastic pollution is a MATERIAL issue. We must stop this particular material from threatening food- and water-security in our shared environment. At its core, plastic pollution is not a social or even a psychological issue, and material-based solutions can be implemented without answering every political question and without confronting the deep psychological issues that have been attached, by shiny tape, to convenience.


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