Excess convenience is actually inconvenient

Without shame, I admit I am not a pioneer on the frontier of consumer technology. Evidence: last week I bought a watch to replace one bought 20 or more years ago. The old one kept great time, but I often confused the minute hand with the second hand. Not enough for the family to consign me to assisted living, but frequently I ran too early or too late for appointments.

Sadly, when my watch gave out, it could not be repaired by my neighborhood jewelry store. They would have sent it home to Scandinavia for a healthy fee. The new watch on my wrist cost a mere $20 and does more than I need it to do.

It tells me the month, the day and the date. All on one screen. If I wish, it will wake me with a buzz, keep me informed every time the hour changes, and I know not what else. Nor do I care.

For a few weeks I fished in my shirt pocket for my cell phone whenever I wanted to know the time. It was inconvenient and not as inconspicuous as a casual turn of my wrist. Anyone I was talking to was distracted, assumed I had a text or a call that needed immediate response, and lost his/her chain of thought.

The cellphone is a device that puts its user in a cell, separated from direct interaction with others. This is a lonely place filled with distractions of questionable value, offering limited views for eyes and brains capable of broader inquiry.

Once upon a time, I used a paper calendar, the week-at-a-time variety. It served me well for several decades. Then I was informed by my CDIO (Chief Domestic Information Officer) that my cellphone incorporated a calendar as well as a camera, a compass, a flashlight and other wonders.

Now I have a calendar that syncs with the cloud but fails to influence the weather. In addition, I must go through a series of steps to discover what a week looks like because the screen cannot hold all the events of a given week.

More recently, to my great joy, I found a month-at-a-time calendar where I can see exactly that, a-month-at-a-time. This treasure will not sync with anything, does not provide the date and place of Franklin Pierce’s birth, and does not issue unwanted alerts.

I still enjoy the benefits of paper maps and need not know the nearest intersection where a Wendy’s may be found. I still read my newspaper as did my grandfather – – on paper and off-line.

Please, don’t think of me as opposed to contemporary life. Hardly. I enjoy on-line access to our public library. But frequent changes in consumer goods only serve adolescent preferences. Mature consumers, having mastered one device, can be satisfied for long periods of time with stability, if stagnation is avoided.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.