Futures Friday: The Futures of Patience — Redux
OK, if you saw the original article last week, I was having a bit of fun but also trying to make a point. We are living in an on-demand world. That’s great right? Instant potatoes, instant messaging, instant gram — all at the tips of our fingers (well, maybe not the potatoes — unless you are my daughter — she eats everything with her fingers. Seriously. Everything. And she is nine.)
The problem is people are not machines. We are slow, unpredictable, ever-changing beings of wonder and while we love instant services, the expectation of now is changing us and how we behave towards each other. So — what is the Futures of Patience?
That is a huge question and worthy of more than a three minute Futures Friday post, but let’s see if we can break it down a bit to at least start thinking of the implications of patience in our world.
It is usually helpful to look back a bit to get a sense of current trends. Over the past 100 years, there have been a few fundamental shifts that have brought us to our impatience with waiting — communication, transportation, and automation. And behind each of these is one primary driver — technology.
Let’s look at transportation and logistics first. We ship goods across the planet and to our doorsteps at record speed. While this used to be a service limited to the rich or hyper local (i.e, the neighborhood drug store), now we can order a book on patience from Amazon and get it the same day. Not fast enough, get a digital version right away. But what happens when the order is a two-day delivery or we have to wait in an actual line? How does that make us feel? What are the expectations we are putting on each other? Do we really need it now?
And what about personal transportation? We are moving faster and farther than ever before. We are evolving our reach and convenience across all modes of mobility. Want a bike to get across town — no worries. Just step outside your door and one is waiting for you, and it’s electric so you do not even have to pedal.
Changes in automation are similar. We expect our wants to be met immediately and to ignore pesky humans who just slow things down. We have created a world where you can have a product delivered to your door without any humans directly involved. We have turned our world into a giant vending machine.
Automation is not just physical either. Computer systems are automating everything (including trying to auto-predict what I am typing right now so I do not have to keep using my slow fingers).
As disruptive as transportation and automation have altered our expectations on waiting, no other trend has been disrupted more than communication. Since the invention of the telegram allowed us to send messages instantly we have become accustomed to information and communication at the speed of now.
So where are we today? We have come to expect people to respond as fast as the technology that has shaped our world. When you message someone, how fast do expect them to respond? What about the cashier at the grocery store?
We have created a world where we hate wasting time, and we devalue anything that keeps us waiting. We often trade quality for speed. Humans do not generally respond well to being under the pressure to do it NOW! If this is the world we have created, where will that lead us?
We do not have to look far to see some of the implications of impatience. We want our news and facts instantly. We do not want to wait for science to be confirmed or the facts to be checked so we rush out information before it is ready. Then when the data or facts need to be revised, we distrust the people that gave us the first version. 2020 has many examples of this from pandemics to politics. Impatience has led to the devolution of the purpose of communication even as the speed of communication has skyrocketed.
The Futures of Patience
There are a couple of ways patience could evolve. While we have come to expect instant everything as a privilege, there is also a growing movement to slow down. Mindfulness and meditation are becoming normal practices for many.
Let’s take a look at a couple of brief scenarios that show where we might be heading:
Scenario 1: Communication breakdown
Entropy. At some point things break, even societies. If we cannot communicate we will destroy each other one way or another. It’s very easy to see how this plays out. As we continue to loose patience with each other, we loose respect and the openness to listening. We loose trust and even the ability to cooperate. This could lead to growth of class separation, civil unrest, violence, war, and ecological disasters (sound familiar?).
Moving social discourses to social media have accelerated this scenario. We not only read instant messages, we feel the need to respond right away without doing research or applying reason. We respond emotionally. It’s much quicker to feel than it is to think.
Scenario 2: Chilled out
While technology continues to accelerate many of our day-day tasks, we take a step back and learn to unplug as well. We learn to wait and respect each other. We can have our instant cake and take the time to eat it too.
How do we get here? Through a sense of shared compassion, possibly sparked by a global event. The Covid-19 Pandemic had the potential for accelerating this scenario, and in some ways it has. It may be too early to tell. Many are a lot more patient with each other during meetings where technical glitches and kids/pets often derail our video calls. However, the impatience of data and guidance about the virus has led many to distrust science and each other.
In order for this scenario to play out, we will need to value the time between times. We need to not try to optimize everything. We need to be comfortable with inefficiencies and with waiting.
Scenario 3: Candlelight
What happens when the lights go out. For many this is a forced pause to our lives that causes us to slow down. As I was writing this article our power went out for two days. It can feel good to unplug, but life still needed to happen. What about a technological collapse caused by an EM weapon or prolonged solar activity causes us to unplug? Chaos for sure, but what rises from those ashes when we need to rely on each other in real life?
Humans have a way of pulling together when we are physically together. We do not have to look far to see the effects of loss of power on a community. Puerto Rico has suffered power outages for years and when Hurricane Maria hit the island, many lost power for months. Some groups got tired of waiting and came together to restore power themselves. If we are forced to live without technology, how will that affect our patience? Will we be OK with the slower pace?
What other scenarios might we see for the futures of patience? What about a post-capitalist world where we devalue the accumulation of things? What about a world where we live and work primarily in a virtual environment. What happens when our minds are augmented by devices and implants that increase our speed?
If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment or reach out. And if I am slow to respond, please be patient.
This article is part of the “Futures Friday — A Look Back at Looking Forward” series. Each week futurist JT Mudge reflects back on a week of living in the future.