SciTech

Gilster: Long-term planning fades as digital tools make us more impatient

Why are we always in such a rush to buy new technology? Consider this: On eBay just before the launch of Apple’s iPhone 6, prices on an iPhone 6 Plus with 128 GB of storage were well over a thousand dollars, and I saw a lot of “Buy It Now” prices in the $2,500 range. At this writing, an ongoing auction for this phone has hit $1,550, with 10 bidders in the mix.

Considering that the retail price for the iPhone 6 Plus is $950 without a contract, I have to wonder what impels people to cough up this kind of money. Sure, it gets you out of a wait while Apple handles the problems of huge demand and the crash of its online store as 10 million orders flowed in. But how much time are we talking about, and exactly how much higher will the quality of anyone’s life be raised by having the phone a bit earlier?

Impatience is exacerbated by digital tools, a fact that should surprise no one. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reminded us of this a couple of years ago when it found that so-called “Millennials” are breaking the mold when it comes to instant gratification and what one expert refers to as “fast-twitch wiring.” Maybe there are upsides to the ability to embrace attention-deficit disorder as a tool, but I have doubts that any form of multitasking does anything but degrade cohesive thinking.

Endless updates

Long-term planning fades as we fixate on immediate results, a fact that applies to quarterly earnings reports in the stock market as well as to personal decision-making. And of course, it’s not a new phenomenon. Witness the Polaroid camera, which began to supply instant results as far back as 1948, or for that matter the growth of delivery companies like FedEx, not to mention Amazon’s intent to offer same-day shipping in some areas.

My own impatience gave me today’s topic. I had just returned from a conference in Houston and needed to start writing a series of reports. I forgot how many updates were waiting for me in Windows and booted it up instead of my usual Linux. When Windows was finally up, I turned to DropBox to pull out my photos.

No photos. The reason was that when Apple released iOS8, I simply couldn’t bring myself not to download it. I had to see what it looked like. Anyway, it turned out that iOS8 didn’t work with DropBox, and as I write this, the problem is only partially fixed.

Slow down

I decided to use Apple’s iCloud to get my phone photos, which meant another installation on Windows, but at least it didn’t take too long. Unfortunately, I needed to use my password manager to get iCloud to work, and that was on a USB stick. Moving too fast, I made room for the USB stick by unplugging the wrong device – my mouse – at which point Windows gave up the ghost and crashed. Finally, moving files from my MacBook Air to the PC, I discovered that all my notes were scrambled. I had a single-paragraph document that was 22 pages long.

Because I’m as guilty as anyone else of digital impatience, a fairly straightforward morning of writing turned into an exercise in exasperation. Why do we do this to ourselves? Some people think digital technology is addictive, a thought that is hard to deny given our compulsive need to check our email and Facebook contacts. “Patience in a rushed world,” wrote Sylvia Boorstein, “is a shared relief.” It’s also a rare one, and certainly not one that “shares” easily over social networks. I, for one, need to slow things down.

Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at gilster@mindspring.com.

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