Drawing the Line on Convenience

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The new marketing tagline at Chick-fil-A read, “Lines are so last year.” It promoted Chick-fil-A One, which allows chicken-eaters to earn loyalty points to acquire free poultry. Also, in-app purchases allow customers to pay for their spicy fowl meat before entering the restaurant, meaning they can skip the lines and go right to the pickup counter. Faster fast food. No hassle.

Well, I am beginning to wonder if our present-day obsession with making experiences easier and tasks more convenient is turning us less human.

David Michael Bruno

So, I have been giving some thought to inconvenience. All sorts of experiences have me thinking about this, but especially lines. Here’s what I want to know: does standing in line at Chick-fil-A actually do something good for my soul?

Look, even Disneyland’s Fastpass doesn’t eliminate the lines. What it does is allow Fastpass holders to skip the long line before entering a shorter long line. But think about what’s actually going on for a minute. I get a Fastpass. Welling up with smug pride, I briskly walk past the losers in the long line and take my rightful place among the privileged in the shorter long line. Get rid of the lines altogether and you’ve eliminated anthropology.

Oddly, some humans seem to think that’s already happened. Silly Neo, embodiment is so last year.

So what does this have to do with inconvenience? Well, I am beginning to wonder if our present-day obsession with making experiences easier and tasks more convenient is turning us less human. I’m mashing up Sherry Turkle, Nicholas Carr, Wendell Berry and Norman Wirzba in order to make a case for a minor theology of inconvenience, which also could be termed a minor theology of figuring out how to get through the long line of living like a human being.

I want to write one of those cool Alan Jacobs thought experiments right now. But Facebook Messenger keeps distracting me and I cannot concentrate. So I’m leaving it here for now.

Epilogue

Today was National Donut Day. First, what quantum computer algorithm is ever going to think up something as awesome as National Donut Day? Two, I took advantage of National Donut Day by foraging four quarters from my car and going to VG. The place has really good donuts. There always is a long line at VG. Out-the-door long. It is a right of passage to get to the counter and buy a warm maple bar that melts like hot lembas on the tongue. Today, an old woman asked if I would hold her place in line while she went and sat down because she wasn’t well enough to stand for long. (She was healthy enough to eat a raised cinnamon swirl, apparently.) And behind me in line was a mom with her three-year-old daughter. The little girl was almost as excited about the length of the line as she was anticipating the donut.

I repeat, eliminate the lines and you’ve eliminated anthropology.

Profile photo of David Michael Bruno

Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.


17 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Miss Mary

    Miss Mary

    @missmary

    Well, without lines it would certainly make my own personal anthropology more difficult. I would lose a ton of my people-watching time.  I also think the experience of delayed gratification is rather important for us in small doses, or the times when it isn’t something small like a sandwich (illness for instance) can become overwhelming to our coping skills.  Sometimes we need practice to learn to anticipate something, but wait patiently.

  2. Profile photo of Holly Deutsch

    Holly Deutsch

    @hollymeri

    Lines = a nearness to humanity. It’s hard to explain why I’ve been avoiding the new online or kiosk ordering in favor of a short exchange with an actual person. It seems that we don’t know how to wait in line anymore. But it’s an opportunity to take a deep breath and look around.

  3. Profile photo of Laure Hittle

    Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    For goodness’ sake. This was hilarious.

    Also, i think you’re onto something. Also also, i want to hear about your thought experiment.

    Also also also, i read a book a few years ago: The Line, by Olga Grushin. So good. So much humanness (glory and fallenness) was developed and revealed in that line.

  4. Profile photo of Kathleen Mahoney

    Kathleen Mahoney

    @wonderseeker

    This is a very good endeavor, and I look forward to pondering it more through your words. Also,  I agree wholeheartedly with those before me, that without lines, there would be less a chance to people watch.

    Something else to consider is how we use Google. I have serval learning disabilities, which means that I always have spell-check on and now have this clever extension called Grammarly that helps me not sound like a idot or say something I would be highly embarrassed and regret. Its a hard line to walk I am thinking. On the one hand, these media conveniences are what enables me to pass through college with much less hair loss and pain, and let on the other hand, it is so much easier to open Google and not the old dusty dictionary from the shelf. Thoughts?

    oh, and thank you for teaching me a new word: Anthropology. Thank you also for how it was presented. I had to dash out from the kitchen table and race up-stairs to grab said dusty book previously mentioned 😀

  5. Profile photo of Janna

    Janna

    @jannabarber

    I hope you’re mostly preaching to the choir, here. After all, this is the website that gave birth to Hutchmoot, which is made up of lots of waiting moments, and that’s where much of the magic happens. What we’ve been reading in The Slow Church forum goes quite well with all of this, too. God’s sense of time can feel very slow if we never have to practice that in real life. The concrete example I come up with for myself today was putting a piece of pizza in the microwave to warm it up, or turning on the stove. Sure the stove takes way more time, but you’re never going to get anything crispy in a microwave.

  6. Profile photo of The One True Stickman

    The One True Stickman

    @theonetruestickman

    I am pretty sure I read an article or saw an article about this concept recently but it beats me where.

    I think there is a corollary in Amazon Prime. Being able to order some thing and have is show up on my doorstep in three days for no extra fee is great! …but I’ve noticed it’s far less satisfying than planning an order (waiting until I have enough to hit free shipping) and then waiting for it to arrive. It’s like robbing myself of a little bit of Christmas.

  7. Christina A

    Wonderful thoughts! You might like this blog post in a similar vein: http://worldstillpoint.blogspot.ca/2014/10/waiting-laboratory-of-god.html?m=1

  8. Profile photo of David Michael Bruno

    David Michael Bruno

    @guynameddave

    So glad this is resonating with others! Also, I like how we’re thinking about this beyond waiting in literal lines. @jannabarber for about six years we lived without a microwave. It was lovely. We finally replaced our broken above-the-stove microwave and it just isn’t as enjoyable or delicious to reheat food. But I use it. Which affirms a truth: I naturally gravitate towards convenience. Which confirms why Chic-fil-A and other firms can entice me with convenience.

  9. Profile photo of The One True Stickman

    The One True Stickman

    @theonetruestickman

    Now that you mention it, David, I have had mixed emotions about fixing the dishwasher yesterday. It definitely is much easier on a busy household but there is something about hand-washing each meal and having it done that is fulfilling and I kind of enjoyed the last couple weeks.

    I also didn’t mean my previous comment to sound dismissive – didn’t fully self-edit there, sorry. The concept does resonate and connects to other things I’ve read so I am having serious deja-vu and it’s really bugging me.

    @wonderseeker – didn’t grok your comment about Google last night but my wife and I were talking about that very thing a few weeks ago. It may have  been because of the five different (large) dictionaries I have on the shelf collecting dust. I think the tools are a boon – my challenge is using it purposefully rather than impulsively or habitually. Sometimes that means writing down things to look up later instead of doing it right away.

    Also, um, we have a toaster oven that is perfect for re-heating pizza slices and only takes a couple minutes to crisp.  😛

  10. Rebecca D. Martin

    Yes! Yes, yes, and yes! Eliminate the lines, I’m thinking, and you eliminate the people. And what on earth are we here for, if not for people? Knowing them, understanding them, loving them. I have a five-year-old daughter, and it is almost always good for us when we stand in lines. The things she notices. The things people say to her. The moments to stand still and rub a few thoughts together, or have a conversation between us.

  11. Rosemary

    While I get what you’re saying, my understanding is that the app allowing customers to skip the line at Chik-fil-A was geared primarily towards parents with a passel of young’uns in tow. And as such I find it laudable and quite family friendly, as a mother of three under five. 🙂 The idea is that you order, then unbuckle your children and herd them in, get them seated–and there is your food! It is a real courtesy and a blessing, much like the local grocery store that allows me to order groceries online and then brings them out to my car and loads them up. These things have been lifesavers.

    Now when it comes to just me, or just me and one of my children, then lines–I am fine with them. But otherwise, the act of standing in line with three small children is an act of insanity, and I am probably not going to leave the confines of my own yard except to venture to safer places, like church or grandma’s house. Our society is pretty isolating for families of multiple small children and anything that makes life simpler for them I’m in favor of!

  12. Profile photo of Katherine

    Katherine

    @kat828

    Whenever we go to the amusement park nearest us, my brothers and I always gravitate toward the roller coasters… The big ones, that everybody likes.  The ones with the really long lines. (Of course, we usually do try and go when most people are in school, but still).  I’ve found that, whether my brothers are with me or not, it’s a great time for people-watching and letting my mind wander. Smiling at the little kids and their parents in front of you, trying not to eavesdrop on  the rednecks behind you… Where would we be without it?

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