Technological progress has produced a wide range of positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, we have faster computers, more fuel-efficient cars, less invasive surgery, more powerful antibiotics, etc. On the other hand, we have climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, health hazards resulting from genetically modified foods, lethal side effects to legally approved pharmaceuticals, etc. As people of the modern age, we must be very careful about the actual cost-benefit equation of the products and services we purchase.
Modern Technology and Efficiency
Before the 1970’s, manual labor was still a major component of almost every profession and craft. From the operation of manufacturing plants to the classification and archiving of administrative documents, all processes were labor-intensive; hence they consumed a considerable amount of time. Accountants, for example, had to use calculators with very little temporary memory, which required them to print out the results of fairly small calculations to be used as input for subsequent small calculations until the final figures were totalized. The amount of physical time required to complete most tasks was clear to all and accepted by all. There as definitely room for improvement.
According to Moore’s Law, fortunately, computing capacity has doubled every two years since the 1970s. This computing capacity has been made available to almost everyone in the industrialized world in the form of desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. As a result, almost everything we do today seems to happen immediately. We can find any piece of information on the internet in a matter of seconds; chat in real time with a friend located on another continent; and pay off our credit cards on a mobile device. We can even do all of that virtually simultaneously. Forty-five years ago, though, the foregoing would have taken days of library research; weeks of transcontinental correspondence; and a half-an-hour wait in line at a bank teller’s window. The progress has been simply amazing.
The Culture of Immediacy
But it hasn’t all been bells and whistles. These technological advances have distorted our perception of reality. We expect, unconsciously, to get everything we want in a matter of seconds, minutes, or, in the worst case scenario, hours. We have developed a culture of immediacy that has made us impatient and, in the long term, could also make us incompetent.
Just as we are able to find the location of a restaurant in less than five seconds on a mobile map, we expect complex human processes to occur in the blink of an eye. We expect people to change fundamental aspects of their personalities overnight. Similarly, we expect people to achieve the extraordinary without undergoing the necessary personal growth, academic studies, and professional development. Likewise, we expect to solve complex problems with a single instruction.
In business, many major corporations expect to achieve challenging strategic objectives quickly by assigning insufficient budgets and devising unworkable tactics that ignore the very realities they are trying to conquer and transform. In this regard, many of the world’s most well-known companies remain operational because of the greatness achieved by their founders decades ago; not because of their current genius. Furthermore, many of these businesses, as revealed by their published financial statements, make more money on the stock market than they do by selling their products and services. Impatience and its ugly cousin, greed, have become a very powerful force in our society—more so today than ever before, precisely because of the tools afforded by modern technology to the world of business.
Effort, patience, commitment, customer service, serious research, and similar time-consuming endeavors have become unwelcome. More and more people just want to get things done on the fly while not really becoming invested in what they do. A quick search engine, a simple spread sheet, an executive summary, and a mobile app seem to be the center of people’s expectations. In other words, people are starting to reject the very virtues that made today’s technology possible. We are at a very critical crossroad as a society and must act fast to avoid making a definitive turn in the wrong direction.
We must remember that today’s technological efficiency is the result of centuries of hard research and painstaking trial and error. The Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Technological Revolution are behind every car we drive, every airplane we fly, every computer application we use, every selfie we take, and every post we like on social media.
Every time we send an email, for example, it may take less than a second for our message to reach its recipient, but it took humanity five thousand years of recorded history in the pursuit of knowledge, science, and technology for us to be able to send that email. Every perk of modern technology is the result of the relentless determination, honest self-examination, and detailed observation of our predecessors. This realization may help us be more grateful for living in this era and motivate us to use today´s technology more intelligently and responsibly.
It would be unacceptable to let impatience, greed, and sheer vanity dominate our culture today. Not only would this be disrespectful to our ancestors, it could also be the path to losing all we have achieved as a species so far.
What Do You Think?
Do you think the culture of immediacy is present in today’s communities and businesses? Does the culture of immediacy follow, or break, the 11 laws of systems thinking? How does the desire for overnight success and having it all play into the culture of immediacy? How could we go about creating a new culture based on patience, hard work, study, and research in order to protect and further develop modern technology? How could social media help in such an endeavor?