Inconvenience Is Qualitatively Bad

by Alicorn1 min read26th Feb 201852 comments



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.