Is convenience devaluing products? Does quality suffer because of it?

Kind of a long hiatus posting (far too busy working on cool stuff) and for you looking for a deep technical post this may not be it… but here goes anyway since the content may also apply to my more usual subjects.

Recently I decided to discard my Luddite membership card and join the hordes of people using network-based services for music.

The experiment is ongoing – I do like the convenience of being able to select almost any song or album for the monthly equivalent cost of less than what an album is worth.

It’s a pretty good deal if you listen to a lot of new music, and/or you don’t like listening to ads on the radio.

There’s a plethora of free offerings but if you are mobile and want to use it on your phone, there’s usually a cost involved to have the convenience of selecting the exact songs you like.

How convenience has affected me

I did notice several interesting aspects in which this newfound convenience has changed my listening habits in a positive way:

  1. I am discovering a lot more new music since it’s so incredibly easy to do so. And some old music I never gave a chance to.
  2. Sharing music with other people is easy and involves no illegal copying of data.
  3. I don’t have to worry about putting the “right” music in my portable device – I can stream what I want, from wherever I want, even on devices I don’t own, and even designate items for “offline use” – meaning they’ll be cached and playable even if I’m not connected to a network.
  4. I have easy access to most of my oldie favorites that I might normally not keep in my device due to space reasons.
  5. The quality is very good. But we won’t go into psychoacoustics here 🙂

However, there have also been some pretty negative aspects to all this convenience… for instance:

  1. I realize I now suffer from music ADD – I seldom just sit down and listen to a whole album like we all used to do in the olden days.
  2. Albums now have zero monetary value in my mind – they’re just part of the low monthly fee.
  3. If albums have a perceived zero monetary value, they become a commodity and not something to be treasured. I remember when it was a huge deal to get a new album from my favorite artists: the anticipation, the excitement, the trip to the record store, waiting in line, scarcity, the artwork in the packaging, the sheer physicality of it all. This combination of attributes ensured I would at least give that album a chance – indeed, I was likely to listen to it repeatedly, analyze it and appreciate the artistry involved. I was invested.
  4. As a result of this devaluing, amazing works of art that were extremely difficult to accomplish may now be skipped altogether because they may be a bit time-consuming or even difficult to “get into” – some concept albums you just need to be in the right frame of mind for and/or have the requisite amount of time to listen to the story unfold. Since there’s no perceived investment and no excitement, it’s less likely to spend the energy trying to get into the album, no matter how rewarding it may be in the end.
  5. For something more practical: The toll on the mobile devices’ batteries is 2-3x that of just playing music natively (even without streaming – the tracks are encrypted so you can’t just lift them from the storage, which adds CPU cycles to decrypt, plus some products use codecs more computationally intensive than mp3). Best have a device with a fast CPU.
  6. An extended unplanned network or music provider outage will mean no access to music.

How this applies to other aspects of our lives

I wonder now what other conveniences have affected our lives significantly?

And are we all looking for that quick fix, the easy way out?

Are we heading towards the world depicted in the movie Idiocracy? (very interesting flick – it’s worth watching for the premise alone).

Already, most of us in the more “civilized” parts of the globe don’t know how to hunt down and skin an animal, build a weapon, start a fire, build a shelter. That is knowledge that convenience robbed us of many years ago. You can study how to do those things, but chances are, if you’re in need to do so, you won’t have the training to be anywhere near as successful as our ancestors were in those endeavors.

Same goes for taking pictures – aside from a few people that still develop and print their own film, most of us use digital (with the same deluge of information problem described in the music section above – thousands of pictures may now be taken during a vacation, where previously no more than a hundred would, with tremendous love and care – but most of the hundred were keepers).

Many of us are getting heavier, too – convenient access to food and low levels of physical activity (since locomotion is so convenient) being the killer combination.

Does quality suffer because of convenience?

Conveniences aren’t a bad thing overall – I am not hankering for the destruction of all things convenient. However, I posit that certain aspects of quality absolutely suffer because of convenience:

  1. Consumers are more likely to pick an easier to use, throw-away and even short-sighted product over a better-engineered, longer-lasting one – shifting the engineering emphasis instead to ease-of-use and disposability.
  2. The quality of workers in many fields isn’t what it used to be.
  3. We are heading towards more generalists and less specialists.
  4. Troubleshooting is becoming a lost art.

I’m not sure how to even conclude – I’m probably part of the problem since one of the things I do is help make very advanced technology easier to consume and more forgiving.

Just don’t get too comfortable.

Toilet chair

Thx

D

One Reply to “Is convenience devaluing products? Does quality suffer because of it?”

  1. Interesting article. I too am a music lover and have diversed into online music service but…. I also cannot leave my old ipod alone and still “crank it up” on my home stereo. I also purchase entire albums based on my liking a few songs I here. I still understand that music is something to be enjoyed on multiple levels (it is art afterall). There are a few of us that are always trapped in limbo. I still know how to build a weapon and hunt down what I need to eat but really enjoy hopping over to the grocery store to grab nicely packaged food. I find that quality is what you make of it. I can listen to compressed music in a convenient player or online service and enjoy it. I also enjoy the effort of playing the non compressed version on a great sound system and picking up on the subtle noises and imperfections that make music that much more of a human connection. Some people never seek to understand music. They are simple listeners. They don’t care what went into it or how it was derived. They just want something to pass the time and shut off the buzzing of life while they finish a bike ride or a walk in the park. I am occasionally a simple listner. But my true love of music is the human connection which requires more effort but is much more satisfying to me. Same can be said of technology. Most of us are simple users. We don’t want to worry about what all went into it or what it means, we just want it to work and move on. But there are also those of us that understand the art. The extra effort required to make it sing in harmony with all integrated components even though the end result is something that nobody besides you will truly appreciate.

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