Our Culture of Immediacy

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Expectations
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

image from shopping.rediff.com

image from shopping.rediff.com

We’ve seen this past week the impact of what happens when expectations are not met for something to happen quickly. In the rush of last-minute buying and shipping of Christmas presents, untold numbers of packages went undelivered by the “guaranteed” delivery dates. As a result, people either had to do without presents on the intended day, or they had to rush out and buy something else. I saw on the news one lady who was upset that her shipment of live lobsters didn’t arrive in time for the family get-together and meal (definitely a first-world problem – poor, poor lady). I’m sure starving children around the world will weep for her inconvenience.

Fingers are pointing everywhere in the aftermath. Retailers are blaming shippers. Shippers are blaming last-minute shoppers, fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and capacity that was simply overwhelmed. Consumers are blaming retailers and shippers. I don’t think I’ve seen people or organizations yet raise their own hands and take responsibility.

In the case of Christmas shopping, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for last-minute shoppers, although a guarantee is a guarantee and the buyer should be able to trust those guarantees to be honored. Hopefully there is a lesson learned: shop earlier next year. It’s not like December 25 is going to pop up out of nowhere on you regardless of when Thanksgiving comes. Get it done earlier and quit your whining.

But the expectation of immediacy isn’t limited, of course, to shipping presents (in spite of the interest in Amazon immediately shipping things by drone beginning in a couple of years). We expect pretty much everything when we want it.

  • We expect news and immediate details of unfolding events, and news organizations feel obligated to be the first to report, even when they don’t know the facts, making their so-called news mere speculation.
  • We expect to get in touch with whomever we want whenever and wherever we please regardless of the intrusion that causes for the receiver or rudeness displayed by the receiver in taking such messages in other settings.
  • If we have a customer service issue, we expect a call, tweet, or other social media post to yield immediate resolutions as if we are the only customer for that Fortune 100 company that actually has millions of other customers.
  • If we see an ad for something we like, we expect to go online on our portable device and get it right now.
  • We want fast food, fast transportation, fast profits, fast credit, fast weight loss, fast beauty, fast ownership, fast training, fast relief, fast satisfaction, and relationships that are perfect quickly – none of this waiting or working for decades like our parents had to do for the same results.

I certainly have nothing against some things happening quickly. It’s convenient. It meets a need and then we move on to whatever is next. But something is amiss when the big story of the week is a package ordered on Monday not being delivered by Tuesday to a home on the other side of the country. Something is out of whack when the social media channels of businesses are clogged with complaints from people who tried to do something at the last minute and then expect the staff levels and processes of established businesses to wildly fluctuate to accommodate their tardiness.

Is our culture of immediacy a symptom of a growing self-centeredness in society? Is it a consequence of enabling technology that has slowly morphed our expectations? Is it both? Is it something else? I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it isn’t always healthy or reasonable to expect whatever we want now.

There is value in learning patience. There is value in contentedness. There is value in planning ahead to avoid the need for so much to happen at the last minute. There is value in leaving room in our schedules for the unexpected. There is value is wanting less.

We are blessed as a society with many advantages, conveniences and opportunities, but I think we have a lot of room for personal growth and maturity. Less dependence on immediacy will be one indicator of that maturity.

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