Lamenting the loss of anticipation in our instant world

A squib of a post today. A question. It’s this. We live in an instant world.

Want to know something? Get it instantly with Google on your hand-held. Take a photo. Look at it instantly. Want to buy something? Get it instantly on “the plastic”.

It’s all come from the computer revolution. Want something? The computer delivers – information, purchases, communication.

But it is also an age of instant disposability. An age in which we have forgotten to wait. An age in which the sense of anticipation is lost in the face of what we might call instant digital gratification.

Does this reduce the colour and depth of our society? A mixed blessing? Your thoughts please!

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


15 thoughts on “Lamenting the loss of anticipation in our instant world

  1. A few years ago Popular Mechanics ran an article from The Atlantic titled Is Google making us stupid which argued that our ability to concentrate is declining due to the instant search results for information online.  David McRaney, in his post, Procrastination argues that this culture of instant gratification is the true reason we keep putting important things off until later.  If we send a text or even an e-mail (or comment on a blog) we expect a reply within seconds and get very agitated if it’s not forthcoming.

    I think it spills into other areas of our lives.  We start treating our relationships that way – if there are problems we want an instant fix, not work on it until there’s a breakthrough.  We expect a newly elected government to fix all the problems within a few weeks of taking office.  We don’t want to stop and listen to someone share an idea if it’s more than 140 characters long – the elevator pitch is becoming the main mode of business communication and five-minute TED talks the preferred form of education.

    Closer to your statement on anticipation – there isn’t any.  Our world is quickly becoming a surprise-free zone.  We already know what Smaug is gonna look like and that there’s a new girl-elf and The Hobbit isn’t due to be out for months yet.  Through reviews and previews we know what happens in the newest novel even before it is published.  The only way to still be surprised about anything is to disconnect your internet, it seems.

    Sure, there are advantages – thanks to digital communication I can have friends around the world to name just one.  But as we speed up we have less and less time to wait for each other, we are less prone to savour the moment, we are less likely to consider all our options and “sleep on it” before we make a decision.

    And if you look at Mischel’s marshmallow-experiment, this is not a good thing.  The kids in his experiment who were able to resist temptation fared much better in life in the long-term than those who opted for instant gratification.  But it seems our world is becoming a place where delayed gratification is no longer even an option.  One can only wonder where that will lead.

    (And now my comment is longer than your post. Oops! Feel free to edit)

    1. No need to edit – I agree with your sentiments…and I ran a short post hoping to get some good discussion! You’re right. A lot of stuff is trivialised these days because it’s been made instant, easy, disposable. We lose the ability to value things – extending into the intangibles of life. Probably it’s cyclic, a response to the new that will pass through in a generation or so as our new is overtaken by the next ‘new’; but we have to live in the here and now. meantime, while it’s happening. Choking on the detritus of our disposable and value-less world.

  2. Two small thoughts. Remember real film? The wait for it to be processed, and the surprise (and often disappointment) when you got the pictures back? Now everything is so instantaneous we record everything, but in the multitude of recordings, we never sort out which are the important moments.
    The other thought is that, of course, we still hold on to a sense of delicious anticipation every time we read a great book. Who really did it?

    1. I still have a film camera and a roll of film for it, though (a) the camera broke when I was in Paris in 2004 and hasn’t really worked since; and (b) the roll of film is expired… You’re right, there was that sense of anticipation with the process – the discovery of how your photos had come out. All lost today. I saw stats this week which suggest that we’re taking literally billions of photos around the world every day. Of that nearly a third aren’t even looked at again. Disposability. It’s sad. And an indictment of our disposably instant society, I fear.

      Books are still valued, I think – though again, the way we get them has become instant. Whispernet and Kindle, for a lot of them…

  3. More, Me, Now! vs Patience. I think instant gratification has removed some of the appreciation value from our lives. When we have to wait for something, we tend to appreciate it more.

    1. I agree. When I was a kid, I had to save for things. These days we’re barraged with instant goods on promise of easy credit or no repayments until some nebulous future. Underscores our disposable age. I’d rather save for things – and savour them when I get them.

  4. If I am honest, I admit to wanting information in a nanosecond but I am more than happy to savor a book and even to wait for its arrival, although I have been known to buy the e-version because I don’t want to wait. Yet, the speed of technological change bothers me in general for while I would rather write on a screen, I don’t have to be connected to the world to do it. As you know, anticipation is key in writing beyond the tools that facilitate. As a writer, I am quite concerned about the immediacy that is more and more demanded. As a reader, I am more than happy to wend my way around a well-written story and still, there are times when I just “need” to read something from the 19th century or earlier! I want to savor it.

    Obviously, I went a bit off topic but in terms of the everyday, all of the gadgets, clothes, and just plain stuff that we accumulate so we don’t have to wait is bothersome. A few years ago, I just stopped and frankly, it took my friends awhile not to be concerned. I enjoy saving for an item I decide I really want and enjoy re-using items, all of which to me is part of anticipating rather than discarding.

    Wonderful topic, Matthew, and as always, you get us to thinking.

    1. Sounds sensible to me. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. My parents were brought up in the world that was shaped by it. As a kid in the 1960s, I was taught that you didn;t rush out and buy something new because the old was broken. I still don’t, if I can avoid it, on principle.

      My problem is that we get forced into it anyway. Half the stuff we buy isn’t even made to be repaired. Or it gets ditched because it’s not supported. I had a perfectly good 300 dpi scanner which I couldn’t use, for no better reason than that Canon didn’t make a driver that worked under Windows 7. I refused to ditch the scanner, though it had become a paperweight. But earlier this year I was able to donate it to someone still running XP, for which there were drivers. So all ended well.. It irks me that something like that was looked on as disposable by the manufacturers. It wasn’t broken!

  5. How interesting it is that with each technological advancement we must reinvent ourselves in order to retain our humanity. How we’ll do that (or how we’ll fail to do that) remains to be seen. Likely the revelation will come when we realize that the disposable society we’ve created has made us disposable. At that point we’ll reach for depth before we drown in our own shallowness.

    1. I agree…my guess is it will be a couple of generations – first gen (us) takes up the new idea, second gen rejects it but doesn’t escape the trap, third gen finds something else to define themselves.

  6. I think it has had a huge impact on the media industry, for both better and worse. There is a level or immediacy that readers and audiences expect thanks to the proliferation of social media.

    When a major event happens the first to report on the subject are amatuers via social networking sites and internet forums. When I felt the big 2010 September quake I waited for geonet to update the specifics, expecting that it was another quake in the Fiordland sequence that we occasionally feel down here. In the meantime mainstream media was silent, with the exception of live radio, but social networking sites and forums were buzzing with the news that Christchurch had been hit. The first photo to appear on international news sites had been pinched from a popular New Zealand forum. It was hours before TVNZ began their coverage.

    Traditional media needed a bit of a shake up, but there are some downsides to the shift. For example, while censorship in the media is usually seen as a negative thing it also has its benefits. Mainstream media can be held accountable for their actions, and often hold back details for moral, ethical or legal reasons. For example if someone is killed in a car crash does the public really need to see the dead body? Is it right that families should find first learn that their loved one has been killed by seeing a photo on the internet? If a judge decides that certain details should be suppressed then mainstream media usually respect that. They aren’t perfect, but they do act as a filter.

    Compare that to the Aurora ‘Batman’ shooting, where the go to sites for updates were run by amatuers gathering information through social media and internet forums. They published details well before mainstream media, in fact they even provided a live link to police communications as the event unfolded. Another example was the recent bombings in Boston where extremely graphic injuries were published almost instantanously for the world to see.

    Mainstream media is struggling to keep up with the kind of immediacy that people expect in this day and age, and as they try to do so they lower both their standards and quality. The impact is huge. There is less respect for privacy of individuals. There is zero respect for things like the Broadcasting Standards Authority. Accuracy and credibility mean nothing, immediacy has become all that matters. There are also very real issues of quality, for example newspapers are increasingly sacking all their staff photographers in favour of arming their journalists with iphones. So in my mind the information age certainly does have a bad side, as well as the good that it offers.

  7. This touched a nerve. We have no television at home but my kids watch shows on the internet. They did not realize that on normal television you have to wait for the program to start and if you miss it, you can just go back and reload it. It was instant gratification. I lamented that. But on the other hand, I could not have found this blog to comment on, if not for the Internet. I could have never imagined that I could be part of a community and meet such interesting people from all over the world, if not for WordPress and blogging. As you had said the new generation will find a way to make technology fit their humanity. This is the lesson I have learnt from interacting with the bloggers, you might have been brought up in different countries and cultures but we can still connect on some level. I have hope for my children and their children’s generation! 🙂

    Thanks again for the like at

    1. It’s astonishing how quickly the internet has become taken for granted – and the features it offers thought normal. I expect TV will either adapt or die in the face of it. I agree – one of the things the net has done is to allow people from very different cultures and background to converse – and to find out commonalities. Curiously, the only person who predicted exactly how all this might work was Arthur C. Clarke, nearly fifty years ago. He nailed it.

  8. I found a half dozen rolls of film that are un-developable, mainly because nobody does it any more. In my day, recycling was automatic and required an extra trip to the store to get your refund.
    It’s a shame that all the modern improvements truly did not help our lives for the better. I think we lost a lot.

    1. Absolutely true. And true, I think, of a lot more than just digital cameras. There is a character to analog media that digital simply doesn’t have – indeed, cannot have, because of the nature of what digital is. A pity. As humans, our reality is analog.

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