Convenience Will Kill Us All

What will it take for some of us to live more difficult lives for the sake of everyone’s survival?

Colin Horgan


Air passengers cheer the end of a federal mask mandate on mass transportation. Image via screenshot.

In a video posted online earlier this week, a JetBlue pilot speaks over his plane’s intercom to the passengers. “I’ve been going up and down this coast, from South Florida to New York for about 35 years,” he tells them. “I’ve worked through the blackout, 9–11, all the storms, the crazy stuff, it’s kind of a crazy world. We just got an announcement a few minutes ago…at this moment, if you choose to, you may remove your mask.”

“Yeah!” the camera-holder, a passenger, shouts. Other cries of “woo!” can be briefly heard. The video is one of a handful that circulated in the hours following a decision by a federal judge in Florida who, in ruling on a lawsuit filed by an anti-masking group against President Joe Biden, struck down the Center for Disease Control’s mask mandate for public transit.

Why do people think wearing a mask is the end of everything?

I suspect part of why flight crews are happy the mask mandate is lifted — for now — is that they hated having to enforce it with unruly passengers. And while most people did as they were asked, we can all admit that wearing one kinda sucks. Not wearing one also sucked for a while in most places, because it meant you were suddenly barred from doing things you’d always done. Whether you’re pro-mask (me) or anti-mask (if such a binary really exists), we all know the whole thing is kind of a hassle.

A lot’s been written about the mask-as-signifier during this pandemic, but when you get down to it, this is the underlying source of complaint about masks from everyone (and everyone complains about them): they introduce a level of inconvenience into our lives. But objectively, for a lot of people, that inconvenience has been small. So why does it feel so big? Why does wearing a mask feel to some like authoritarianism or social collapse? Why do people think wearing a mask is the end of everything?

Three years ago, around the time JetBlue introduced facial recognition check-in, I noted the impacts we experience by holding convenience as our most treasured shared value. And we do regard it that way. When pressed…