Convenience Trumps Freedom

Lessons of a Modern Airport
Naturally - and intuitively - it’s “inconvenience” that trumps freedom, right? Just try flying somewhere and anywhere and the personal freedoms we often take for granted are quickly yanked at the airport where inconvenience is the modus operandi - from searching to pat-downs to full body scans. But how can “convenience” also trump freedom?

“Convenience” - or its variant/adjectival form “convenient” - is one of those words classified by wordsmiths and linguists as an “approbative” or a word that produces a positive effect. During my senior year at Samoa College, my English teacher used the classification “Favorable  Words.” (vs. "Unfavorable"). Convenience is certainly a “favorable” word....or is it?

With the advances in technology of the last several decades - especially in the field of automation - the word “convenient” has become more ubiquitous. It has been used to describe a variety of things - from electronic transactions and communication to gas station stores; and from automobile accessories to strategically and conveniently placed kiosks.

It was at one of the US airports where I was first made aware of convenience trumping freedom.

I went inside the restrooms and after "transacting some business" in one of the stalls, I reached back for the flushing handle - not there. I turned (while still seated) to spot a button or a non-standard device for flushing - zippo ... zilch! Then I stood up, a bit frustrated. But no sooner was I up than the gush and rush of the flush made me ... well, blush!  “What the heck?” I quietly mumbled.

My embarrassed but still analytical mind finally figured out the surprise from my experiences with other similar setups and devices. The word “motion sensor” popped into my head and I needed some confirmation. I immediately sat down on the throne again for a few seconds and then stood up, and sure enough, the flush was activated. I admitted quietly: “How convenient!”

But then my brain starts implementing its own probe. “What if someone wants a second, or third or fourth flush? Apparently the “Simon Says” game needs to be played and repeated. On the other hand, a creative person would try to find where the sensor is and trigger it using some other means. Still I thought that I had been robbed of my freedom to just turn that handle as many times as I want, or needed. Obviously, the choice was still there, only different and a bit more arduous. So I quietly forgave the inventor of the flushing sensor - for at least a minute or two ....

Because when I stepped out of the stall to wash my hands, guess what? I did not see any handles for the taps. “A ha ...gotcha!” I proudly whispered. I walked over and put my hands under the faucet and surely water gushed out. Again “How convenient,” I thought.  But the water was cold and I wanted warm. I kept my hands under the faucet a little longer and the water changed from cold to cool, but not warm. Now I was having an imaginary exchange with the faucet: “I want warm,” I said. “Sorry that’s all you’ll get” was the faucet’s reply and to which I responded: “You’re robbing me of my freedom to choose the temperature that I want.” The faucet then assured me that I had to choose between freedom and convenience. It spewed again: “The temperatures are now preset and that is a huge convenience.” I then replied: “Whose convenience? C’mon, let people decide the warmth of the water for themselves, give them freedom - that’s true convenience; I want my two C and H handles so I can adjust the warmth that I want.”

Then the water stopped. I wiggled my hands - nothing. I moved back a foot or two, then came back and tried again....still nothing. Now I was thinking that this faucet had a mind of its own and it was really mad at me. Just as I was about to move to the next sink, the water starts running again.

Oh, meanwhile, the soap dispenser (also motion sensor-controlled) was going like crazy spewing liquid soap from all the wiggles and jiggles and hula hand lessons in the sink. The rising soap suds started to become an inconvenience.

(Apparently there’s more to this conspiracy disguised as forced convenience. I wonder if it’s all wrapped nicely in what’s called  "profit!" The sensors, I guess, are meant to avoid waste (in case a tap is left running - intentionally or unintentionally), and save money, provided of course the sensors work all the time. Therefore, they also don’t want you to play with the flush handle and waste water in the process - even when flushing more than once is absolutely necessary. Warm or hot water also costs more, so they won’t give you any warmer or hot water.)

The saga continues. I realized that I wanted some cash. I spotted an ATM and again the “how convenient” thought nudged and nagged, only now it comes with a pinch of skepticism. Surely enough, it happened. I wanted $50, but my choices were in increments of 20, so I had to get $60.  With money, I guess I can relinquish my freedom any time for convenience sake - albeit covert and coerced.

Perhaps one of the ironies in all this pseudo convenience is that a traveler from China or Russia expecting to be "free at last", arrives at an airport in the - ahem, ahem - "land of the free", and finds that his first choices in America are conveniently infringed and encroached upon.

So next time you think something is convenient, think also of some personal freedoms and choices that have been compromised.

Bon Voyage!

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