Do we live in a society that eschews long-term planning in favour of short-term gratification? Yes, according to a new book by author Paul Roberts. In “The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification” Roberts paints a picture of a society that prefers quick fixes to problems instead of taking the time to find a long-term solution.
Why is this? Some have argued that today’s lightning fast delivery of services and media has changed our ways of thinking, and we have become more impatient and focussed on meeting our short term needs instead of participating in long-term planning.
This lightning fast delivery of services and media is seen everywhere. Retailers such as Walmart, eBay and Amazon offer same day delivery in some places, and Netflix boasts 33 million members who stream videos online (just press a button and the video is there) compared with 8 million who get DVDs by mail. Online apps let us book a cab, reserve a table at a restaurant, and even find a date, eliminating time with the swish of a thumb. We don’t even want to wait 30 seconds to watch an internet video. A 2012 study examined the viewing habits of 6.7 million internet users and found that after 10 seconds of waiting for the video to load, 50% of viewers gave up and abandoned the video. At 30 seconds, 80% of viewers were gone.
Roberts argues that this instant gratification has not made us happier, but in fact has increased our anxiety. Others concur and worry that continued (and likely escalated) immediate delivery of gratification will leave rob our society of the ability to tackle issues that require deep thought.
While the fast speed of services and media is undisputed, I don’t agree completely that people are not interested in any long-term planning. In a society fraught with uncertainty, we must plan for the long-term, particularly those of us under age 35. I also believe that long-term planning has been undertaken in regards to environmental issues (the recent rebounding of the ozone layer is an example of this). However, in regards to societal issues, Roberts does have a point. Many of these issues do require long-term planning and attention.