Mar 13, 2018
Our new colleague Jessie contemplates patience and the lack of it nowadays…
Have you ever been frustrated when a web-page took “too long” to load? Or maybe you have been annoyed when your flight home was delayed by half an hour or when you were put on a “brief” hold by a customer service rep. And if not, then I’m guessing that you might have impulsively refreshed an app on your phone (without even being aware that you were repeatedly sliding your finger down the screen) while waiting in line at Trader Joe’s or while on a conference call.
While my friends and family consider me a fairly easy-going person, I am guilty of all the above - regularly. I do not think I am alone in my daily frustrations and suspect this is a trending societal phenomenon – though not in the cool, enviable, YouTube stardom way. I suspect that we are collectively losing our patience.
“Patience is a virtue” is a sentiment that most of us have heard from our elders and dates back to a poem written in 1360. In the Buddhist tradition (along with many other major world religions), patience or kshanti is a core tenet of the good life; a building block of self-compassion and positive relationships with others. This capacity to accept or tolerate setback, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset is a rapidly decaying skill in our age of technological efficiency. With an increase in speed and expansion of scope, advances in technology have an inverse relationship to this tolerance. And if we don’t work to rebuild patience, we will find ourselves increasingly irritable and unhappy.
Ironically, while we have become remarkably good at minimizing everyday delays and troubles over time, it is this very efficiency that makes us ever more impatient. By way of example, 150 years ago, it would take five months to travel from Missouri to California with a high likelihood of your or your partner catching dysentery along the way while it now takes under five hours and you can enjoy high-speed Wi-Fi and complimentary peanuts and tomato juice. Similarly, while just 15 years ago, it would take hours thumbing through the Encyclopaedia Britannica at your library to conduct research for your college paper, it now takes but a few seconds on Google from your phone, anywhere.
Yet, despite the speed and the access, we become enraged at delays that, decades ago, would have seemed to be unfathomable progress bordering on science-fiction. This is one part of what I call “The Expectation Crisis.”
The Expectation Crisis is that we as a technologized society have advanced so far and yet pushed our expectation ever further, creating a new gap between expectation and reality. It occurs because our expectations increase exponentially at an insatiable rate. For many of us, this is a time of relative luxury; one such perk is we can order any one of 200 million items on Amazon and expect delivery within one to two days. However, with this high-bar expectation set, a missed delivery day feels like a personal attack and causes deep frustration. Studies conducted by Google, Akamai Technologies and UMass Amherst, show that between 2006-2012 our patience for webpage loading time has decreased from 4 seconds to 250 milliseconds; that’s a sixteen-fold decrease in patience in just 6 years! While it is, objectively, an amazing time to be alive, our moment-to-moment experience often doesn’t feel like it.
Unfortunately, the future doesn’t necessarily look brighter. In a TED talk on the future of robotics, a scientist presents examples of robots completing mundane tasks for her; cleaning her house, mowing her lawn and changing her cat’s litter. At first glance, this seems to be the exact purpose of technology; to allow humans to spend their time doing only the highest value work. However, there’s a much more troubling side to this approach to technology. First of all, it assumes that we know exactly what work is considered to be of highest value. And more importantly, this delegation of work to our mechanical friends will likely diminish our patience for “low value” work (whatever we choose to put in the category). We’re quickly becoming work snobs; we have no patience for work deemed to be unimportant.
The repercussion of this global loss of patience that is most troubling, however, is in how it affects interactions with other people. Human relationships are, by nature, messy, and above all else, require large amounts of patience. And the more time we spend with robots that are subservient to us, that respond to our every request instantly and consistently, the more we will expect the same from our fellow humans. And the more humans expect this kind of subservience and immediacy, the less likely cooperation will be. This is the darker part of the Expectation Crisis.
As Jack Ma pointed out in his WEF speech, we’re so focused on making robots more human but we need to make sure we are not making humans more robotic. We will, if we haven’t already, fall prey to the Expectation Crisis in terms of our human to human interactions. As the popular Harvard University study on Adult Development proved the key factor for a happy (and healthy) life is positive social relationships. Yet, if we are losing our patience with one another at increasingly faster rates over increasingly smaller things, how will we be able to invest the necessary time and energy in our relationships, the very lifeblood of our wellbeing and happiness? If we continue to allow our expectations to grow in size and speed, we will see our relationships diminish by those very amounts. So while we may be unwrapping our hourly Amazon drone delivered gift packages, we will be doing so alone, by ourselves and for ourselves, and that sounds miserable.
Technology may be making big leaps every day, but here are 5 small actions you can take to preserve your patience on a regular basis:
1. Jump head first into messy, human experiences
When presented with the opportunity to have a difficult conversation with someone or a heated debate, do not shy away from it but rather welcome this as a practice of patience in conversations
2. Go for walks, for the sake of walking
Go for at least one long walk each week that has no purpose. Stop at red lights and look at your surroundings
3. Have real, in-person conversations and let awkward long pauses happen
Instead of checking your phone as a crutch for filling the inevitable void in conversations, embrace the silence
4. Wait in line for things without checking your phone
This one is self-explanatory but has become such a habit that it may be the toughest to break (Read Deep Work by Cal Newport)
5. Spend time with young kids because they require patience and old people because they often have it
Sign up for a Big Brothers Big Sisters program or something like it so that you have to spend time with a child who needs your undivided attention and patience
Visit an old-age home monthly. The elderly have a beautiful calmness about their relationship to time; one we should all hope to learn.
Axl Rose is known for many things, underwear and fishnet stage costumes, last minute concert cancellations due to his relapses, but not philosophy or relationship advice, per se. However, in one of Gun N’ Roses more sonorous ballads, he hit the nail on the head: “All we need is just a little patience.”