Inconvenience Is Qualitatively Bad

My most com­pli­cated cookie recipe has four lay­ers. Two of these re­quire stove­top cook­ing, and the other two re­quire the use of the oven sep­a­rately be­fore the nearly-com­plete cook­ies are baked in yet a third oven use, for a to­tal of three differ­ent oven tem­per­a­tures. I have to sep­a­rate eggs. I have to re­mem­ber to put but­ter out hours in ad­vance so it’ll be soft­ened when I get un­der­way. Spread­ing the fruit neatly and then the al­mond goop on top of that with­out mud­dling the lay­ers is finicky and al­most none of the steps par­allelize well.

They’re deli­cious, but at what cost?

Peo­ple who don’t cook as a hobby would never, ever make these cook­ies. And this is rea­son­able. They shouldn’t. On most days I shouldn’t ei­ther. They are stag­ger­ingly in­con­ve­nient.

But they’re made up of in­di­vi­d­ual steps that you could mostly figure out if you re­ally wanted to. Lots and lots of lit­tle steps. This is why I want to scream when­ever I hear some­one try to add steps to some­one else’s life. Espe­cially if they say “just”.

“Just” Google it. “Just” rinse out your re­cy­clables. “Just” add an­other thing to re­mem­ber and an­other tran­si­tion to your to-do list and an­other obli­ga­tion to feel guilt about ne­glect­ing and an­other source of fric­tion be­tween you and your real pri­ori­ties. It “just” takes a minute. Don’t you care?

Any­one who didn’t have any im­mune defense against things that just take a minute would spend fif­teen hours a day on one-minute tasks, if ex­pend­ing the en­ergy re­quired to switch be­tween the tasks didn’t kill them be­fore it got that bad. But “it would be in­con­ve­nient” doesn’t tend to feel like a solid re­but­tal—to ei­ther party; the one at­tempt­ing to im­pose can just re­it­er­ate “but it’ll only take a minute”.

Every­one needs al­gorithms to cut down on in­con­ve­niences.

Some I am aware of:

  • Chunk­ing. Things feel less in­con­ve­nient (and ac­cord­ingly are) if they are un­der­stood in batches, as one thing and not thirty. (This is re­lated, I think, to a lot of man­i­fes­ta­tions of ex­ec­u­tive dys­func­tion—chunk­ing doesn’t work as well.) Peo­ple nat­u­rally do more of this with things they’re good at—I think a lot of be­ing good at things just is be­ing able to take them in larger chunks and find­ing larger amounts of the thing triv­ial.

  • Del­e­gat­ing. For some peo­ple del­e­gat­ing is it­self in­con­ve­nient but if you del­e­gate enough things it can be use­ful on bal­ance. Often costly in other ways too—qual­ity, cus­tomiza­tion, money.

  • Straight-up re­ject­ing im­po­si­tions, in whole (“I just won’t re­cy­cle”) or in part (“I’ll re­cy­cle but no way am I wash­ing out bean cans”). Pick what to re­ject at whim, from cer­tain sources, or by an­other dis­crim­i­na­tion mechanism. Re­ject­ing im­po­si­tions from in­ter­ac­tive hu­mans as op­posed to generic an­nounce­ments or one­self re­quires so­cial grace or a will­ing­ness to do with­out it.

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