Jamie Bartlett

Not so fast

We all expect instant gratification – and it’s politics that’s suffering

I’m losing my patience. Not so long ago I’d happily wait ten minutes for a bus, or even whole days for the next instalment of my favourite television programme. It didn’t seem to bother me in the slightest that my holiday photos would not be seen until I’d picked them up from the chemist. I even went to the library to get information from an encyclopaedia.

Life, in short, used to be a waiting game, and patience was not just a virtue but a habit. Now I wonder how I survived in a world without Google Maps, Uber or smartphones with in-built cameras.

The whole direction and purpose of modern life, at least on the surface and for those well-off enough to benefit, is to make everything frictionless, personalised, easy. Click a button, a taxi turns up to your house. Click another, it’s a handyman or a pizza, or a book or a date. Soon even the act of pushing a button will be viewed as an unnecessary nuisance. We’ll just bark orders at a personal home assistant. ‘Alexa! I want to eat!’ And eat you shall.

Total convenience has its uses of course. But it’s making us bad, intemperate people, and lazy. Various studies find a surprising number don’t bother reading articles they click on or even share with others. We will ditch a website if it doesn’t load up inside one hundredth of a second, and will drop a date who’s not instantly and impossibly perfect. In the US, the amount of time spent reading for personal interest at weekends and on holiday fell by six minutes to 21 minutes in the decade up to 2015. I struggle to keep on a page for more than a few seconds before I feel the urge to reach for the phone and find something more interesting.

And no one — absolutely no one — can be bothered to read terms and conditions of course, even though they tend to be quite important.

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