Sometimes, I yell at my phone when the screen freezes. Just last week, I felt my heartbeat rapidly increasing and my legs shaking when the customer service representative from Amazon put me on hold for a few minutes because my package didn’t arrive in two days like it was supposed to. It turned out that my package got lost somewhere between UPS and my apartment, so I had to wait a whole extra two days to receive my order.
Waiting four days for a delivery seems like an eternity in today’s society, as more consumers have become accustomed to the instant gratification afforded by technology.
Instant gratification is the need to experience fulfillment without any sort of delay or wait. Ultimately, you want in now, like greedy little Veruca Salt sings right up until she falls down Willy Wonka’s garbage chute. Waiting can be really hard, and when people don’t get what they want, the psychological reaction is anxiety.
To capitalize on that desire, companies are taking consumer anxiety and sprinting with it, offering same-day delivery services, eliminating the need to wait for a taxi and providing the ability to stream full seasons of TV shows within seconds.
If you think about it, anything can be delivered: food, flowers, furniture, clean laundry, instant answers on Google, groceries and even people. Well, not literally people, but with apps like Tinder, Grindr and JSwipe, there are 50 million romantic candidates right at your fingertips, waiting for you to filter them by location, sexuality, religion, hobbies and how desperate they are for a partner.
Retailers too are reaping the benefits of society’s growing impatience. Walmart and eBay have challenged Amazon in a battle of which company can deliver the fastest, because consumer habits have made it clear that they will pay big bucks to avoid the wait, leading places like Disney World to profit off of passes that allow consumers to skip the line.
Instant gratification has even made its way into your living room, as DVRs have eliminated the need to watch commercials or wait for show times. Some companies, such ABC and NBC, have resorted to forcing their viewers to watch their advertisements by adding features that prevents them from fast-forwarding. In the same vein, internet providers are delivering faster connections—for a higher cost, of course—and are tempting buyers with their advertising speeds.
The patience of internet users is notoriously slow, and even minuscule differences in buffer times can have massive impacts on the success of a business. University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Ramesh Sitaraman conducted a study to establish the point at which people begin to leave a YouTube video that loads slowly. He concluded that videos begin losing viewers at a delay of two seconds, and every one second of waiting after that marks a 5.8 percent increase in the number of people who leave. A wait of forty seconds or more will eliminate one third of the audience.
Such demand for instantaneous feedback has repercussions beyond internet usage and purchasing habits; a society that experiences fewer and fewer waits in its daily habits will slowly possess less and less patience. In certain fields, a lack of patience is fine, but when raising children, teaching others or climbing the professional ladder, there is no way around slow, sometimes excruciating periods of growth.
Consider a recent graduate working in their first career. Their tendency to expect fast feedback will lead to disappointment when they are passed over for raises and promotions, and even a lack of positive reinforcement may lead them to struggle to stay motivated. When they don’t receive the expected fulfillment, they may feel frustrated and in extreme cases, may even seek a new job. In certain arenas accomplishments take time, and without a degree of patience, the pat on the back so many millennials are looking for will never be quick enough.
What’s more, instant gratification doesn’t grant lasting satisfaction; its entire purpose is to substitute the deep pleasure of earned enjoyment with the fleeting pleasure of instant enjoyment. People enjoy the rush of their phones beeping with a new text message, but the feeling of that pleasure disappears quickly after it comes. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting or needing objects, experiences or people within a certain amount of time, but it’s important to be able to exhibit restraint when you need to.
Instant gratification is to be expected in particular circumstances. If you order a pizza for dinner, you can expect the restaurant to deliver that order within a time frame. There is instant feedback from social media because followers can see your photos and status updates immediately. Your cell phone is always in your pocket so the connection is constant. There is no need for patience.
But letting the thrill of instant gratification deteriorate your ability to delay gratification is problematic, and will lead to serious problems on an individual and community basis. For instance, diagnoses of attention deficit disorder in children have skyrocketed in the last decade, and even the amount of adults being prescribed medication has soared. Society is losing its ability to focus.
With shorter attention spans, fewer and fewer people are choosing to read books, magazines and long articles. My grandmother is an elementary school principal, and she has begun noticing her students gravitating more toward graphic novels, most likely because of their short sentences and profusion of blank space. Even writing this article, I have consciously decided to keep the paragraphs shorter in order to make the information less overwhelming for the impatient millennial.
The good news is that more and more people are recognizing the issues of technology and are seeking ways to calm their racing minds. Last year, money spent on yoga increased to a record-breaking $16 million, and although many find it difficult to disconnect, they feel more relaxed in the end.
With the abundance of instant gratification, it’s difficult to recognize that people don’t need immediate satisfaction to feel happy. It’s important to remember how beneficial patience can be, because the best things in life are more than a click away.