It is inconvenient to guard one’s privacy, and the better one protects it, the more inconvenience one must endure. Enjoying privacy, at a minimum, demands installing software to block tracking online, using long and different passwords for online services, remembering to turn off the WiFi and Bluetooth signals on your mobile phone when leaving the house, using cash, and so on.
The more privacy conscious have to go through the trouble of using encryption for all their messages, covering the camera on their laptop with a sticker, suffering the slowness and limitations of using Tor (a software that enables anonymity online), and may even be willing to forgo the many advantages of having a mobile phone altogether.
Companies and institutions should not make it this hard for people to enjoy privacy – we shouldn’t have to go through all this trouble to make good on a right. However, we live in a non-ideal world, where it is more and more a fact of the matter that governments and businesses exploit people’s personal information for economic and political reasons.
So, individuals living in the real world are faced with the dilemma of either complying with the default option and surrendering their privacy, or trying to resist exposure through paying a high price in inconvenience. It makes sense to ask whether privacy is worth all the trouble.
Imagine going into a shop, picking out whatever you fancy, putting it in your bag, and simply walking out. No cash, no credit cards, no queues. Cameras using facial recognition have identified you and you will be billed automatically. You rarely go into shops, anyway. Only when you feel like going for a stroll, or when you wish to explore new products. Most of the time, everything in your house gets restocked automatically through sensors connected to the Internet of Things. That future may not be far away. Amazon just opened a checkout-free shop in Seattle, and may soon open more stores in the UK.
The inconvenience of convenience
The bright side of convenience is an attractive one: it promises us an easier life. Convenience, like pleasure, is an important component of a good life. If we didn’t choose convenience every now and again our lives would be hopelessly uncomfortable and inefficient.
But let’s not forget that convenience can also lead to undesirable paths – it can even kill. Convenience often leads us to to have sedentary lifestyles, support businesses that harm society, have unsatisfactory daily routines, to be uneducated, and politically apathetic.
It is inconvenient to only buy from socially responsible businesses, to exercise, to find new things to do, to keep well informed, to vote and protest when governments commit injustices. A good life demands a reasonable degree of struggle – the right balance between the ease of convenience and the benefits of meaningful efforts. Like pleasure, convenience has to be weighed against the price we are paying for it, and the short- and long-term consequences that might ensue.