An American Affliction of Instant Gratification

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Modern technology has sped up the pace of life, and with it the expectation of instant results. An American affliction of instant gratification makes long-term policy planning and goals nearly impossible. Americans no longer have the patience and perseverance, or willingness to make sacrifices for the betterment of their future. We want what we want and we want it now.

So says Neal Gabler in Impatient for change – The Boston Globe:

SEVENTY YEARS ago, Americans found themselves in the depths of despair. The economy had crashed, unemployment was at 25 percent, people lined up at bread lines and soup kitchens, and nearly everyone was reeling in anxiety at what the future held for them. But as dire as things were, few Americans expected an immediate remedy. What they expected was some sort of action. Franklin Roosevelt first boosted morale by promising to tackle the problem and then set about on a long course to do just that — a course that wouldn’t conclusively end until World War II. Through it all, the country by and large demonstrated extraordinary maturity and patience. It persevered.

In our current economic travails, the public attitude is strikingly different. Americans want the economic disaster to be over now, and we are angry that it isn’t. We don’t have time for financial reforms or pump-priming or a long-term transformation to a green economy. We expect a magic wand. And who can blame us? Unlike our forebears, we live in a society in which nearly everything happens instantly. Impatience is the new American way.

It has been nearly a decade since James Gleick described in his book Faster’’ how everything in society was accelerating. Since then, things have only gotten, well, faster. No one waits anymore, except maybe at Starbucks. We have instant messaging, instant digital images, instant news, and literally thousands of other apps that put the entire world on demand.

But what has largely gone unnoticed is that speed has also changed our political psychology. . . There is a deeper impact with potentially a much greater consequence — namely, that we have become profoundly impatient with the pace of political change.

* * *

Indeed, one of the byproducts of an increasingly democratized society in which more and more people have the vote and other opportunities to voice their concerns is a sense of entitlement, and one of the things to which we believe we are entitled is action so that we won’t be wasting our time. So much of our technology — from cellphones to Tivo to Ipods to Ipads — is a response to our desire for instant gratification in a society that encourages us to feel that way. We want what we want and we want it now.

Speed and a sense of confident alacrity certainly have their advantages, but when it comes to politics they can be counterproductive. For one thing, speed discourages consideration.

* * *

But a more important consequence of speed for politics is that it creates expectations that the political system cannot possibly meet. The problem is that while everything else in society keeps getting faster, government has always been slow. The Founding Fathers designed it that way. Operating in an unhurried and cautious society, they wanted an unhurried and cautious government — one that wouldn’t be affected by . . . impatience.

* * *

The point isn’t that our system of government isn’t nimble enough for an age of rapid response, though that is unfortunately true. The point is that there is a major disconnect between a new political psychology of instant gratification and the stubborn intransigence of life, between an increasingly impatient society and a government that can’t deliver results quickly enough.

In the short run, this has erupted in understandable frustration and anger and a desire to turn out the party in power. In the long run, it may lead to something much more dramatic; because when the popular culture promises what the political culture cannot produce, the temptation is to try to change the political culture into the popular culture. We want a hero who gives us instant results — a President Iron Man.And there is likely to be a good deal of turbulence unless we find one — not the turbulence of populism or Tea Baggerism or left-wing disappointment, but the turbulence that comes from our newfound impatience.

You hear this "President Iron Man" argument from the media-types on both the left and the right all the time – the president should "just do it" – to hell with the Congress, and the courts, and the Constitution for that matter. This desire for a strong "daddy" figure to satisfy our every need for instant gratification is what leads to the destruction of democratic forms of government and gives rise to tyranny and totalitarianism.

As Pogo famously said, "we have met the enemy… and he is us."

Comments are closed.