“A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature.”
-Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness
Nowadays, there are few products that are consumed with the voraciousness that technology is. As a result of this consumptive force, it’s become uncommon to have a conversation that doesn’t waft back towards it. From an updated iPhone feature to a clever new app, there is often more said about technology than politics, art and social issues combined, even with the accessibility of information and the ever-presence of new media. The currency of ideas seems to have been replaced by a readied discourse about things, so much so that often times I feel like screaming “READ SOME NIETZSCHE!” because the air is so thick with it.
While the culture of critique and the arts have met technology’s evolution with scepticism – as witnessed in books like Brave New World (1932) and The Circle (2014) – this evolution has remained at the forefront of our culture. Without question, these products can make our lives more convenient, but the oft-marketed belief seems to be that this convenience is synonymous with a more valuable life. With information being more pervasive than ever, our awareness of the world piles up, but are questions regarding our individual evolution being ignored in favour of a vision of progress that makes convenience the grandest achievement?
The most arduous moments of my life, so far, have been wholly inconvenient. When I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in 2006 with only a suitcase and limited life experience, I remember staring up at the bus stop sign that seemed to pierce me with its 90 degrees, thinking the move was the longest mistake I would have to live through. A few years later, arriving in Rome at 5 AM after 30 hours without sleep at the very beginning of a 6-month solo sojourn through Europe and Northern Africa, I was painfully cognizant of what I had undertaken. I definitely take pride in the difficult road, but I don’t think the moments that shine would be quite so brilliant without the frustrating ones that preceded them. How could those experiences belong so wholly to me if they had not swelled to near unmanageability in the moment? And who, after the sheer, unadulterated joy of getting through would want convenience anyways?
In an article for The Guardian, Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, noted that, “with each passing year, our tolerance for unpleasant sensations decrease, whereas our craving for pleasant sensations increases.” Whether a relationship, a job or a place, the road of ease seems to be considered the better road oftentimes. Unfortunately, though, if life is even slightly aligned with nature, it is chock full of unpleasantness from the failures of our physical bodies to our existential dissatisfaction. There will always be wars, wherever there are human beings, and death and disease will persist as will the losses of family, friends and relationships. In every aspect of life, wherever something is loved or intensely felt, there will be an associated grief – and there is no antidote for the inconveniences that the simplest acts involved in living will throw us into.
Author and philosopher Bertrand Russell confessed to being an unhappy young man in his 1930 book The Conquest of Happiness, but later in life, upon finding satisfaction, he came to the realization that:
The human animal, like others, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life, and when by means of great wealth homo sapiens can gratify all his whims without effort, the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness.
In a system comprised of perfect convenience, there is an absence of authentic struggle. We are often led to believe that the spoon-feed of an easier life will provide a more ideal reality, but perhaps it is only through the untrammelled road that we can access a deeper reality. The disappointments of letting go, leaving behind and being isolated – the gloom of unknowing – are certainly inconvenient in the moment, but they are capable of nurturing a more distinct sense of self, making it possible to see beyond the opiates of security and convenience. A good piece of technology cannot activate nor alter the processes that comprise life; it can only obscure the reality and our connection to it.
We are not all meant to find the same meaning in our existence, but the only way to achieve perfect convenience and avoid damage is to not really live. And what happens anyways when the convenience leaves us and we must deal with the minutiae of life – its harsh realities – and we’re bred into a system of idealized convenience? How intolerable will daily life seem at that point? And just how high will the metaphorical cliff be if we’ve never scaled anything of significance before?
How hard we will fall, and with unparalleled swiftness.