Patience used to be known as a virtue, but is virtually unheard of in the present-day culture of immediacy. Today’s children don’t even know the meaning of the word. People want everything, and they want it now.
Investors expect instant wealth from their financial ventures. Customers expect they’ll look skinny after spending a week at the health club. Students expect perfect scores on tests for which they study the night before. Short-term rewards, short-term gain, instant messaging, instant feedback, instant food, instant cures, even instant movie-watching—instant gratification has infected the world faster than AIDS.
The proliferation of technology and electronic devices—the epitome of instant gratification—revolutionized the transportation industry and transformed time management worldwide. Our ancestors walked, for the most part, rode domesticated animals, or rowed small boats. As civilizations evolved, specialized boats and vessels made their debut and were used for both war and trade. Then, the invention of animal-drawn, wheeled wagons enabled people to traverse land in a relatively short amount of time. Trains and rail networks, steam ships, and the eventual development of diesel-powered ships and submarines followed, with each mode of transportation working faster, cheaper, and better than the previous ones.
Mechanized road transport and road networks, aviation and airport networks, spaceflight and space stations—the most modern inventions—have been the harbingers of change on a macro scale, facilitating the efficient transport of both humans and cargo. A trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a distance of 383 miles city center to center, now takes 1.5 hours by airplane, 6 hours by car, 7.5 hours by bus, and 11 hours by train. Compare that to several weeks on horseback in the old days.
Channeling the resulting time savings back into the innovation circle has allowed people to travel the earth, explore the solar system and beyond, and expand human knowledge in a vast variety of subject areas.
On a personal level, technology and electronic devices enable us to balance a day’s work as efficiently as a circus juggler. The simple touch of a finger enables online shopping, online banking, online bill pay—my personal favorite. Telecommuting is a popular work schedule that many practice, resulting in time and cost savings, as well as reduced stress.
Consider the impatience users demonstrate with modern technology: they smack down the mouse because they’ve clicked three times and nothing has happened yet; they pound the desk because the web page is taking longer than three seconds to load; they cuss because they clicked a video link and a commercial appeared.
Patience is often a selective attribute. For instance, individuals are “cool” with camping overnight in the mall parking lot for the release of an Apple product, but their nostrils flare with exasperation at the long line in the grocery store. Invitees believe it is “fashionable” to arrive late to a party, but their foreheads steam with irritation at a flight delay on the tarmac.
Sadly, the post office is suffering because people have switched from snail mail to email, fax, phone, and webcam. Historically speaking, letters, speeches, text books, even the world’s holiest scriptures—were handwritten. Today, the ancient art of handwriting and a host of other ancient traditions are taking a dying form.
From the Middle East to Latin America, impatience has strangulated economies and destabilized peace and security. The current global recession is a symptom of instant gratification.
Impatience can cripple self-restraint, leading to impulsiveness. Think about the parent who screams in their child’s face, “How many times do I have to tell you to make your bed? When I was your age….” Frequent job changes, multiple marriages and divorce, toxic relationships—are all examples of continued impatience.
Impatience encourages reckless living. Instead of using the time savings to enhance their quality of life, many use their time to coddle in debt, negative thinking and substance abuse, filing frivolous lawsuits, and pursuing sense gratification. Road accidents and death from rash and negligent driving—running red lights, cruising past stop signs, speeding, tail gating, drinking and driving, texting and driving—has increased multifold. People’s restlessness has spiked, attention spans have shortened, and the ADD spectrum disorders are on an upward graph.
People’s listening skills have plummeted. Many people space out in the middle of a conversation. Others unabashedly turn on the television. Yet others scroll on their BlackBerry or iPod.
Instant gratification has extinguished the sheer joy of anticipation. Back in the day, youngsters looked forward to festivals such as Diwali, Eid, and Christmas, because it meant the family got together, new clothes for everyone, and a special banquet. Today, family life has collapsed, new clothes and “things” have become redundant, and people have used food to launch themselves to the realm of obesity and heart disease.
People no longer make the time to delight in nature’s wonders: the smell of the first rains, the sight of a hummingbird fluttering around a flower, the sound of waves lapping against the shore, the feel of bare feet on a stretch of green grass.
The culture of immediacy is making us increasingly rude, joyless, superficial, anxious, fearful, divisive, aggressive, and impulsive on, both, personal and societal levels.
Instant gratification has added convenience and free time to your life, but has it also added more meaning and satisfaction to your life? You love the virtual social networks, but do you dread real-life social situations? Instant gratification has the power to step up your heart beat, but does it also have the power to step up your HDL? Instant gratification has enhanced your stature and sense of entitlement, but has it also enriched your sense of worth? Does instant gratification qualify as a virtue?
Questions are for you to ask; the answers will come find you. Vipassana meditation teaches the individual to become aware of the mind, body, and emotions—a conscious engagement that decelerates the thought process, helps anchor in the present, fosters a strong sense of awareness, shatters misconceptions, opens up the heart and mind, and helps individuals get in touch with their core so they can live a life that is authentic and filled with joy, stability, and gratitude.
May the force of silence be with you.
Until we meet again….