As I stood in line at the grocery store the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly impatient I was. Despite the fact that the cashier and customer were moving at seemingly normal speeds and I had no immediate plans to do much else than watch TV and relax, I couldn’t help but feel this urge to simply leave my cash at the register, forgo my change and rush off. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this wasn’t an isolated incident. The need for speed consumed me daily and I was definitely no Maverick. As I incessantly strummed my fingers on the conveyor belt in hopes of reducing my irritation, I started to wonder how and why I had developed this unrealistic expectation of speed and immediacy.
From a very young age, we are trained to equate speed to superiority. Easy-Bake Ovens could bake muffins at lightning speed. Video games rewarded players who accomplished the most tasks against a ticking clock. Cars that reached certain speeds in the least amount of time were clearly the most coveted. Then along came the Internet – radically altering our perception of speed – taking the concept of immediacy to unprecedented levels. Long gone were the days of writing letters, waiting in checkout lines at stores and sifting through piles of research books at a library. We all reveled at how once-lengthy and arduous tasks were suddenly made immediate and convenient.
But, as the number and complexity of tasks facilitated by technology increased, so too have our expectations and perceptions of speed and efficiency. While we used to wait days to receive letters via traditional mail, waiting 10 seconds today seems like an eternity; and some might say anything beyond that merits lodging an angry complaint to explicitly express the exasperating inconvenience of the entire situation. I’ve started to think we might be experiencing collective amnesia, since most people seem to have no memory of the time when licking stamps and envelopes were the norm.
I’m no Luddite, but I think that all the technological advancements, designed to facilitate and improve our lives, have actually spoiled us and made us increasingly dissatisfied. Loud sighs and grumbling have replaced uproar and awe. We ungratefully assume perfection and anything short of flawless is disastrous. Just because Google was capable of retrieving 10,300,000 “Grocery Delivery” results in 0.20 seconds, was I right to expect my grocery experience to be just as speedy? Clearly not. Should I still be amazed by the Debit Card Machine, which not only is self-automated but also allows me to withdraw money? Clearly so. I’m well aware that my frustration was unjustified, but the feeling that I was owed 1.6 minutes of my life smothered any amazement I should have otherwise felt.
As companies and engineers furiously try to discover the next big thing, I can’t help but wonder what effect it will actually bring. Has the novelty of technology been taken for granted and have associated feelings of excitement been replaced with a sense of entitlement? Are new technologies making us happier and more relaxed or have they reached a point where the additional benefits are no longer appreciated, and instead leave us with perpetual feelings of disappointment and discontent?