As do many sweeping cultural changes, it's starting in the cities. Delivery is becoming much more than just a way to get pizza and chinese (which in most suburban and rural areas are still the only two things you can reliably get delivered). Combining a quick-response team of cyclists (or UPS) with an ecommerce website has broadened the field of delivered goods to include:
There are very few remaining things that I need to leave my house to obtain.
- Ben & Jerry's
- Pet supplies
- etc. etc. etc.
And yet, with all this ease and plenty comes an odd sense of guilt. Something deep in the back of my brain, planted no doubt by all the well-meaning teachers and morality advisers who sought to prepare me for the hardship of the life they knew, and expected was waiting for me in adulthood, keeps whispering "it's lazy to have everything brought to you like this... you should be out shopping..." There's no economic justification for this. Online goods are generally the same price, or cheaper, than their equivalents in the stores. It's the same basic feeling that led people to initally avoid automatic teller machines, and wait in bank lines instead. And like that feeling, we will get over it. But in this case, I think the ultimate result will be much more pronounced and sweeping.
Consider early American pioneers. They made most of their clothing by hand. They didn't do this because they enjoyed making clothes. They did it because if they didn't, they'd have been naked. There was no choice. When textile manufacturing and sales finally caught up with the population out west, most of them gladly gave up making their own clothes, and bought them from Sears and Roebuck instead. And I'm betting that, for many of them, there was always a nagging sense that they were being lazy for doing this, and they should really be making their clothes.
Despite the easy availablility of manufactured clothing, there are still people who make some or all of their own clothes by hand. Why? Simply because they like to. The girl I took to my senior prom in high school made her prom dress. It's a "hobby" now. The progression from "necessity of life for many" to "pleasant pastime for a few", however, in this case, took several generations.
We are now facing a world in which grocery shopping will be, I predict, superfluous for most of the population of America within five years. Book shopping is already superfluous. There's no book you can find in a store that you can't buy online, and probably cheaper. In fact, there are many books that I can locate online within five minutes, that I've spent years searching book stores for. More and more goods will go the way of books, and physical shopping will be steadily replaced by ecommerce and delivery.
But this isn't just about shopping. The same changes are coming to voting, taxes, any dealings with bureaucracy, banking, work, and play. Most things that fall into the category of "stuff you just have to do" is being made easier by computers, and especially, the internet. So we are becoming, as a people, a bunch of fat lazy slobs who will do nothing but bask in the glow of our CRT's all day, while our bottoms expand and fuse with the chair, right?
This misconception, popular though it may be with doomsayers who need to sell their newest alarmist books, simply doesn't hold up to scrutiny. In fact, the current trend toward lubricating the daily grind with bandwidth is really nothing new at all. We've always sought to replace the tedium of daily life with a faster, easier way, and in the past, we've been very successful.
The only difference now is that the rate at which the "old ways" are being replaced is much greater than it ever has been, historically. And, like the power vacuum left behind by a collapsing government, the collapsing tedium of daily life is leaving an "effort vacuum" which many are not quite sure how to fill.
There will be casualties of this rate of change. Some people will simply not know what to do with the time they used to spend schlepping back and forth from store to store, or from work to home. They will watch TV, and eat, and be lost to the world. All revolutions claim their victims, and these will be ours. But they will be only a small percentage of the people affected by this change. What I think will happen to most of us was made clear to me yesterday, by, of all things, a broken hot water boiler.
Our hot water is out, again. So the choices for bathing are:
Not too suprisingly, I chose number 2. And you know, I actually kind of enjoyed it. I'm not saying I'd do this all the time, if I didn't have to, but overall, it wasn't unpleasant in the least. There was a certain satisfaction to having done the work (granted "heating water on the stove" isn't much work), and enjoyed the resultant hot bath.
- An extremely cold shower, or
- Heat up water in cooking pots, dump into tub, mix with some cold, and have a bath.
This was a feeling that I, as a child of my times, was actually not too familiar with. And I feel quite sure that as more of us have more time in which to stumble upon the revelation that doing work you don't have to do, just for the pleasure of doing it, is actually fun and rewarding, this will spread. I predict that the next ten or twenty years will see a radical rise in the number of people who, for example, grow vegetables in the backyard, for cooking purposes, or sew their own dresses and socks, or make furniture in the garage. The New Lazy will be, in fact, a return to the Old Work. Freed from the tedium of the daily stuff our parents had to do, we will in fact rediscover the joys of the daily stuff our grandparents and great-grandparents had to do. Market analysts and demographers won't know what to make of these trends, but you and I will understand. Because we will be the New Lazy.