Living in a time of instant gratification

Journalist Paul Roberts

You send a text to your daughter. Five minutes goes by and there is no response. You wait another five, and you can feel the anxiety and impatience rising. Why hasn’t she answered?

If you’ve experienced such a reaction, you are not alone. The need to receive instant gratification is a growing trend in modern society.

“There are certainly so many good things about technology, but it’s about finding balance and taking control – not having it control us,” said journalist Paul Roberts. “Yet what would push us to look for that balance? In some communities, it’s accepted to walk down the street looking at a phone. It’s up to a community to gently push what it is okay and what is not.”

Roberts is the author of “The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification.” He will speak on Sunday, March 29 at 4 p.m. on the Orcas Center main stage as part of the Crossroads lecture series. He spoke on Orcas this past fall and plans to continue where he left off. Tickets are at Darvill’s Bookstore or at the door.

Roberts says modern society has created a socioeconomic system that is “really good at letting us pursue short-term self-gratification” but not so great at achieving broader, long-term commitments.

“We can see it in our consumer culture and now we are seeing it in our government, education and science institutions,” he said. “We used to rely on these institutions to balance out individual pursuits.”

Roberts grew up on Orcas – his mother Molly and sister Ann still live on the island – and now resides in Leavenworth, Wash. He has previously penned books about the food system and oil industry.

“While writing the book about food production, I found that companies have gotten very good at getting closer to the consumer by producing and creating food, and that pattern was not confined to the food industry,” Roberts said. “It’s really evolved across the entire economy. They almost get inside our heads and personalize our needs, so it’s hard to think of larger, greater good.”

Roberts says humans are hard-wired to be producers and much happier overall when being part of something bigger than themselves.

“One of the problems we run into is that as consumer culture has become dominant, we are losing the capacity to be producers,” Roberts said. “We don’t have the element of production in our lives, and it’s so important in terms of people’s long-term vision. That’s where community comes in: being engaged with others and part of a community are tied to our health and happiness.”

Roberts says we live in a time – because of technology – where we can have online relationships that take away from one-on-one interaction. People become hyper-focused on self-improvement because their world narrows down. For places like Orcas, feeling connected to the community is a part of daily life. But in cities, he said there is a movement of micro-communities where people gather around a shared skill set like learning how to fix things at home or change a tire.

“It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but it fulfills the need to produce and create things, be self-reliant and be part of a community of expertise,” he said. “That is not a novel concept when you talk about a place like Orcas.”