I shot out a traffic light the other day with my shotgun, one that has been giving me fits lately as I go to work. No, I didn’t actually shoot it, but I have found myself fantasizing about doing so lately as I have become increasingly agitated while waiting on this particular light. In fact, I’ve noticed I’m becoming more irritable lately and have even found myself yelling expletives at machines, particularly my computer and cell phone. No, I don’t think I’m going through a change of life. Heck, I wouldn’t even know what a hot flash was, but I don’t think I’m alone. When I mention this to my friends, they recognize their level of impatience is rising as well. I have older friends who are retired and appear much less stressed out and this got me thinking as to what was the cause of the discrepancy. True, I am still actively employed and they are not, but this is as it has always been. There must be something else.
Other than being employed, I am much more imbued with technology than my predecessors. For example, I make extensive use of computers on a daily basis. I write and communicate with them, I prepare presentations and spreadsheets, develop and use data bases and web pages, process financial transactions, and I use them for entertainment purposes. I have a cell phone which I use only occasionally, unlike a lot of people who seem to be addicted to them. My children are probably more proficient with such devices than I am, not to mention games and digital multimedia. Then it hit me; through our technology we have been nurturing a sense of instant gratification thereby affecting our tolerance.
Take photography as a small example. Just fifty years ago you would have a simple box camera where you carefully loaded a roll of film, usually consisting of just 12 shots (exposures). After you took your “snapshots” you would take the film to a drug store to be processed at a price and normally requiring a couple of days. 35mm cameras slowly made their way into our lives offering superior pictures with a roll of 36 shots. Nonetheless you would still have to wait to have the film processed. The point is, because you had limited exposures which cost you money to process, you tended to be more judicious in taking a photograph which was normally used for special occasions, such as group shots at birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, etc. or to capture memories while on vacation. Today it’s different. You would be hard pressed to find anyone without ready access to a digital camera of some kind (the cell phone took care of that). Now we expect to take voluminous instant pictures and upload them to the Internet for sharing with family and friends. Whereas fifty years ago, the average family may have taken no more than 100 pictures in a year, today we take thousands and distribute them around the world instantly. And if we cannot, we become terribly upset.
This leads me to believe there has been a significant change in our dispositions due to our enhanced use of technology. It would be interesting to see some research substantiating how our tolerance levels have changed over the years, thereby leading to heightened stress in our society. Technology has dramatically altered how we access news, our eating and sleeping habits, even how we learn which, in turn, affects our mental acuity, such as our alertness, our attention span and our sense of work ethic.
Technology has conditioned us to be intolerant of inefficiencies and limitations thereby causing us to think faster, virtually, and to multitask. Think about it; we don’t like to wait in traffic, we expect to be able to call and talk to any person anytime we want, we want information at our fingertips, we expect to be able to listen to any song or watch any movie whenever we’re in the mood, we want to get in and out of hospitals, we want instant food, instant pictures, instant credit, instant money, instant everything. We drive faster and talk faster because we have been conditioned to do so. The pace of business has also picked up considerably because it is driven by technology. We want things to be built faster and cheaper, and have no patience for anything less.
When John Lennon wrote his song “Instant Karma!” he was poking fun at our inclination to want everything instantly, that we didn’t want to work hard for anything, such as instant coffee, instant food, etc. Since he wrote the song in 1970 there have been sweeping changes to technology beyond what Lennon could have imagined as we have developed an unforeseen addiction to it.
Our sense of instant gratification today causes us to throw childlike tantrums when we cannot get something on demand. Waiting is one thing, our tolerance level is another. I contend our personalities are being subliminally distorted by technology. We obviously want everything faster, cheaper and better, but is it possible that too much communications is a bad thing? Or too much entertainment, or too much information? If it distorts our culture negatively, the answer is, Yes.
There is a certain amount of Parkinson’s Law being applied here – “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” For example, video games used to be nothing more than tic-tac-toe, then PacMan was introduced, both of which were amusing but rather lethargic by today’s standards. Now we have realistic video graphics featuring blood and guts that move at warp speed and teaching questionable ethics. As the pace of video games increased, so did our pulse.
I find one of the biggest differences between my generation and my older retired friends is we no longer know how to enjoy the moment. We are constantly pushing ourselves to move aggressively faster. Not enough people are finding time to unplug and decompress, and, No, collapsing in front of the boob tube at night is not the answer. Activities such as reading, attending civic events, art, exercise, sightseeing, fishing, etc. offer a distraction that a lot of us need to regain our composure. In other words, there is nothing wrong with occasionally stopping to smell the roses.
If things are this hectic early in the 21st century, imagine what we’ll be like by the 22nd. We already see signs of change in our youth who want everything now and as painlessly as possible thereby creating a sense of entitlement. Older people have trouble understanding why youth no longer has the drive and desire to earn things. The answer is rather obvious; they’ve been conditioned to think this way. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the plug was suddenly pulled from our technology. People would probably go through withdrawal symptoms before finding it necessary to think for themselves again, to learn to cooperate, communicate, socialize, and all of the other people related skills that have been altered over the years. It would actually be quite fascinating, but, of course, this will never happen.
Finally, consider these lyrics from Lennon’s “Instant Karma!” –
Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right in the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of?
Laughing in the face of love
What on Earth you tryin to do?
It’s up to you, yeah, you
Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right in the face
You better get yourself together darling
Join the human race
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.