My life just keeps getting easier. These days, I don’t have to run out to the store to replenish my pantry — within an hour, Amazon Now will deliver my groceries. If I can’t wait an entire 60 minutes, I can use Curbside to request what I need, drive to Target and grab my order without ever getting out of the car.
A cleaner from Handy comes in and cleans my apartment while I’m at work. When I need a drain unclogged or a piece of furniture assembled, Handy will also send over a plumber or handyman.
And thanks to Sprig, Munchery, GrubHub and other food delivery apps, I’ll never need to cook again.
Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a cost: The more efficient we get, the less we interact.
Let’s go back to the Amazon Now example. A couple of years ago, if I realized I needed more milk, coffee and bread, I would’ve grabbed my keys and headed to the grocery store. Inside the store, I would’ve smiled at a couple of strangers, briefly chatted with the employee handing out samples, talked to a fellow shopper in line, thanked the check-out clerk and made a silly face at the little girl shopping with her mom. Then, I would’ve gone home.
Although I never would have thought of this as a “social” interaction, I would have socialized in some form with at least seven people. I call these micro-interactions: short, spontaneous exchanges.
But if I ordered something from Amazon Now, the only interaction I’d have would take place with the delivery person. That’s going from seven micro-interactions to one.
As time goes on, we’ll be able to do more and more from the comfort (and relative isolation of) our home. On November 17th, Uber delivered free flu shots in 35 cities. What’s next: Doctor-On-Demand? Is there anything we can’t insource?
Convenience apps aren’t the only thing cutting down on our face-to-face exchanges. Thanks to technology that facilitates remote work (such as video conferencing, time-tracking software, collaboration tools, screen-sharing apps, team-chat platforms and so forth), it’s easier than ever to work from home.
According to the most recent statistics, the percentage of traditional employees (i.e., not freelancers) who regularly work remotely has grown 103 percent since 2005. And more than two-thirds of employees work from home “occasionally” — up 50 percent from 2008.
Factor in the rise of completely distributed companies (like Buffer, Automattic, Lullabot, Zapier, Twilio and Shopify) and predictions that contingent workers will make up 40 percent of the workforce in just five years, and it’s pretty clear the traditional office is only going to become less common.
What’s the point of convenience if it doesn’t make you happy?
And that’s worrisome. Think of all the micro-interactions that occur within the office; between the secretary, the other people in the elevator, the guy who’s in the kitchen when I make my coffee, and the two people who sit next to me, I’ve greeted six people in my first five minutes at work.
The same micro-interactions simply don’t happen at home. I can schedule a Skype session with my boss to replace a regular check-in, but I can’t pencil in “say hi to people in elevator.” And while IM and Slack can facilitate friendly, “non-productive” conversations with my co-workers, these still aren’t spontaneous, per se: They only occur when I choose to be active online.
The 2014 study “Social Interactions and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties” found that our daily interactions with “weak ties” (people we don’t know very well) have a positive correlation with our happiness and feelings of belonging. In other words, the more micro-interactions we have, the better we feel. The researchers also found this impact wasn’t limited to extroverts. On the contrary, they concluded it might be “especially beneficial” for introverts to have a high number of daily interactions.
In addition, a study by Elizabeth Dunn and Gillian Sandstrom found that, when it comes to our happiness, socialization trumps efficiency. Participants who followed directions to have a “genuine interaction with the cashier” by smiling, making eye contact and having a brief conversation were far more satisfied with their experience and happier in general than those directed to “make their interaction with the cashier as efficient as possible.”
Researchers from the University of Chicago found that commuters who were told to speak to the person sitting next to them reported their commute to be much more pleasant than those instructed to “enjoy their solitude.” Again, personality type had no effect.
So while our future might be convenient, efficient and easy, without micro-interactions, it might also be lonely and sad.
The more efficient we get, the less we interact.
Because convenience apps aren’t going away anytime soon, I suggest balancing them out with apps and services that enable micro-interactions. Rather than working from home, use Workfrom to find the closest spot with good Wi-Fi, abundant outlets and tasty food. Sign up for a membership with WeWork or another co-working space.
Download Treatings to find people in your city with similar professional interests or ambitions. Join interest communities through Meetup. Check out FindGravy to discover events that fit your schedule and your mood. Host or join a SupperClub. Connect with local dog owners on Meet My Dog — or borrow one using Walkzee!
And like everything else, take advantage of convenience “in moderation.” When you’re hosting a party and halfway through you run out of booze, use Drizly to get a front-door beer delivery. But when it’s Sunday afternoon and you want some beer? Make a BevMo trip. When your boss offers to let you telecommute, think about saying, “Sounds great — but I’d love to come in at least three times a week.”
Because, after all, what’s the point of convenience if it doesn’t make you happy?