In these Bluetooth-enabled, bullet-pointed, increasingly-digital times, I’m worried that we’re losing something truly vital — patience. It appears that we’ve all but lost the ability to delay gratification and recognize that some things really are worth waiting for. Our society is so focused on the now that we’ve forgotten about the value of later.
What’s especially scary about that loss is scientists now believe there’s a link between delayed gratification and intelligence. At the very minimum, it’s a given that tolerance & patience are key indicators of emotional & social maturity—and we’re presently in very short supply of those much-needed qualities.
So I happened to be thinking about layaways recently. For those not old enough to recall, this used to be a way to purchase an item when you didn’t have enough money to buy it outright. You’d take your merchandise to the “Layaway Counter” at the store, where the clerk would set your item back and take a down-payment. Then you’d go back from time to time to make additional payments until you had the item paid off. Only then did you get to take your new prized possession home.
But now just about anyone with a pulse can get a credit card, regardless of their ability to repay the lent money. So, people find some goodie at the store, swipe their plastic, and away they go with the new prized possession—with little or no thought about whether they can actually afford (or need) the item. Sure, we all like the immediacy of getting some great new thing right now, but at the same time, maybe something’s lost when we succumb to those impulses. (We’ve certainly seen the mess that credit can cause with the recent financial crises.)
But my point isn’t whether people should have credit or not—it’s about self-moderation and the value of delaying gratification. Deferring a purchase can give you a chance to evaluate “want” versus “need” and once you’ve distanced yourself a bit, often you’ll find that the need just isn’t there. Back when credit cards weren’t so prevalent, anticipation made the end result all the more rewarding.
And do you remember when you used to have to snap a roll of photos, drop off the film canister for development, then wait days to get the prints? The immediacy of digital cameras—click the button and take a dozen shots, then just toss the ones that don’t make the cut right into the bit bucket. Take the best of the lot, tweak &; crop the image, and blast your masterpiece to the nearby printer. But here again, maybe there’s something lost in the instantaneousness of it all.
I’m not ready to forgo my digital camera and revert back to film, but I do believe that the expectancy made the experience all the more rewarding when you finally pulled those prints out of the little envelope and saw your handiwork for the first time, days (or even weeks) after the shot. Certainly, we were much more judicious about snapping photos then, knowing that even the crummy ones would cost.
Have you noticed that as music has become easier to acquire, it’s also become far more disposable? Count the number of truly great albums you’ve heard in the last year and compare that to maybe 5 years ago. With the immediacy of digital music, it seems consumers are at the same time more demanding, yet less discriminating. That is, why bother buying an entire crappy album when you can just cherry-pick the 2 individual tracks that are good? Many artists are feeding into this mindset by focusing on quantity rather than quality, a kind of scattershot approach.
And while a new album used to be something special—you anticipated the release for weeks, eager for the day when you could finally go to the store and plunk down your cash for the new record or CD—I wonder if we’ve lost some of the significance now that music is just a quick click away on the Internet. Music used to have a tangible quality as well, with the album cover and liner notes adding to the overall experience. I thoroughly enjoy listening to my iPod & MP3s, but at the same time, music downloads just seem somehow less substantial, slightly less meaningful than their old physical predecessors.
Increasingly, there’s a startling lack of patience and everyone’s clamoring for instant gratification with very few people noticing the consequences, It’s a nasty Catch-22 loop—we want something right now, but the meaning or significance is often lost because of the immediacy and we just end up wanting more all the sooner. Or upon following that “get it now” impulse, we discover that it really wasn’t all that desirable or special after all.
Each successive generation seems to be coming down the pike expecting more & more immediate gratification. I don’t necessarily think technology is to blame, but the one-click immediacy of the digital world is certainly an unbelievably fertile breeding ground for the “gotta have it now!” mentality that’s pervading society.
What do you think? Anyone else noticed how impatient people are becoming? Is our society experiencing a massive breakdown of self-control or am I just having a massive case of nostalgia?