Beware of the ease trap.
Easier and better are not the same thing and yet our focus as a civilisation seems to be to make things easier, not better. This is what I call the ease trap. Using technological innovation, businesses provide convenience and ease of every sort but convenience and ease can be a disease.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the case in point. I think AI will make people dumber – and definitely not better. We need to use our minds more, not less. Minds are a bit like a muscle in the sense that they get stronger with use, and the mind will get weaker and atrophy without use. This is also the case with will-power. It is better to use your will than not, but it definitely isn’t easier.
Cars are a marvellous convenience except for the significant inconvenience of cost (e.g. purchase, maintenance, fuel, parking, insurance), pollution and emissions, congestion, accidents, and the significant infrastructure required to accommodate them (roads, garages, parking areas). Walking and biking have very little of these inconveniences and they are both good for your physical and mental health.
We need to use them – our minds and bodies that is – or we will lose them.
The downsides of ease
Another aspect is that, paradoxically, ease can be very hard. For instance, too much ease can lead to ennui/boredom. This is the price of ease. Ease can be stupefying. It is good to do stuff. If we don’t have a positive focus we will tend to become negative and destructive before too long.
Ready-meals, and processed food generally, are such a boon for busy people who don’t have the time or energy at the end of the day, or any other time of the day, to cook. It is so easy to grab a ready made meal, throw it in the microwave for a few minutes and you are set. However, it is much better all around to not be in such a rush. The benefits of cooking for yourself, using fresh ingredients, and having a relaxed meal with family, flatmates or friends, are well documented. The Slow Food movement is based on the idea that food is much more than just fuel or a quick ‘fix’. It is a meaningful experience involving human values and competences that are fulfilling and grounding.
Technology is a trap
Businesses want to do everything for us because there is money in it for them, but we pay much more than just money – we pay with our lives, our health and our autonomy. The view is that technology makes us more capable yet technology can be counter-productive in this sense. It is the technology that is more capable, not the individual.
“As we distance ourselves further from the natural world, we are increasingly surrounded by and dependent on our own inventions. We become enslaved by the constant demands of technology created to serve us.” ― David Suzuki
Computers and smartphones make life so much easier; it is hard to imagine being without them. Again, there can be too much ease. There are well-known issues for people who overuse devices. These issues include physical problems like overuse syndrome, bad posture and reduced appetite to mental and emotional problems like isolation, anxiety (from chronic arousal and information overload) and depression.
Dishwashers are great but they cost a lot, they use energy and resources and they take up space. Doing the dishes doesn’t take long and it provides an opportunity to ‘socialise’ with family and flatmates, or if you are doing the dishes alone you can listen to music or podcasts or just have time to think. (Read more about the benefits of doing chores»)
A heat pump or electric heater is good but they require electricity! That costs money, creates emissions and what happens if the power goes out? If you have a wood burner it doesn’t matter if the power goes out. Foraging for wood, stacking it, sawing it and chopping it means that the firewood warms you several times. Wood is renewable meaning that if it is regrown wood is a sustainable resource. It is true that there is particulate pollution, so have a good double-burning wood burner with a good filter system.
Hedonic vs eudaemonic happiness
There are essentially two types of happiness, hedonic and eudaemonic. Hedonic happiness is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Ease is a way to get pleasure without pain. Eudaemonic happiness comes from the pursuit of meaning and genuine purpose. These pursuits might be very difficult, think of training for a marathon, writing a book or raising a child – but they are very rewarding. In a nutshell hedonic is doing things that feel good whilst eudaemonic is doing things that feel right.
It is much easier not to be free. To be told what to think, what to do, when to do it, and so on, is much easier than having to work that stuff out for yourself. But is it better to be free to live on your own terms, true to yourself? Of course it is.
Bettering the Ease Trap
Easier doesn’t mean the same as better. One of my favourite sayings is from Jim Rohn: “don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better”.