EFFICIENCY is at the heart of progress. Yet just as too much of a good thing (travel, say) can yield a bad (congestion), so excessive ease in transactions can generate costs, known in the jargon as a “facile externality”, such that less efficiency would actually be more efficient. In academic circles, especially Scandinavian ones, the notion is well established that innovations which eliminate too much hassle could do society harm.

True to their cause, the high-minded theorists of facile externality go out of their way to make their ideas hard to understand. The effort required to master them has the happy effect of increasing their value, as intended. But it has also held them back from broad application. The good news is that this may at last be about to change.

In the past year facile externality has started to gain traction (a term that, in itself, demonstrates the centrality of friction to progress). This is in part thanks to some well-placed disciples, such as Danilov P. Rossi of the UN’s “Don’t Nudge—Tell” office (DoNuT). But it is also because technology is prompting an exponential loss of friction. Some experts fear a slippery slope.

Firms want to erase the sources of inconvenience and delay that irritate consumers. Technology has made this easy for them. Ride-hailing services allow passengers to walk off without fumbling for money. Streaming video brings the next episode to viewers just before the previous one ends. As Jerry Seinfeld once observed: “I love Amazon 1-click ordering. Because if it takes two clicks, I don’t even want it any more.”

In all this indulgence, the forgone benefits of hassle (slygge in Danish) go largely unrecognised. Frictionlessness encourages bad habits. For those who resent the time suck of 1-click ordering, Domino’s has pioneered “zero-click” pizza-buying. Simply open the app and, after ten seconds, it automatically places a pre-set order. Domino’s competitors are working on a “direct-to-mouth” drone-delivery service that will send individual slices of pizza into your home via an electronic flap. Pizza experts are seeking ways around the “chewing bottleneck”.

Payments are also subject to facile externality. Three in five Britons say they spend more with a wave of the plastic than they would with cash. Ordering goods using Alexa, a voice-activated assistant, is as easy as saying its name. Tech firms are working on gesture-controlled devices that could enable payments with just a furtive glance of desire.

But the great curse of facile externality is value-erosion. Persistent need is the world’s great motivator. With instant gratification, consumers end up alienated and economies worse off.

Take back control

A few companies have recognised the benefits of restoring friction. Research into “the Ikea effect”, named in honour of those happy hours spent with an Allen key, a Billy bookcase and a rising hatred of Sweden, shows that people put extra value on things when they devote their own labour to them.

But the market cannot solve this problem on its own. As Mr Rossi says, only government can properly defend the cause of inefficiency. DoNuT is calling for ideas. Since time-wasting is of the essence, it has imposed a deadline of April 1st next year.

We at The Economist plan to lead by example. From next week, readers will need an extra tool: a paper knife with which to separate the pages of their copy. Henceforth, you will have to slit apart the folded pages of our folios to enjoy the words within. And you will, we are sure, thank us for it.