That feeling of instantaneous discontentment, not instant gratification

By James E. Addicott, 2016 ©

People keep talking about “instant gratification” as the big problem of the new media age. This blog will argue that people that say this are partially right, but also slightly wrong. The “instantaneous” part is correct, but the real problem is not gratitude but discontentment. People of advanced societies are instantaneously discontent with media, commodities, their bodies, other people and our general way of life. This is due to increases in engineering and economic efficiencies, within which societies are embedded.

Why is this the case? For thousands upon thousands of years, businesses have considered that the means to success is increased efficiency: producing more products with fewer resources. It is not only businesses that have though this, but it feeds into the general logic of engineering efficiencies. For example, you can drive further with a more efficient car that you can with an older, less efficient or inefficient car. That does not necessarily mean your will drive your car less. Increasing economic efficiencies means more products with less effort invested. Simple stuff.

Following this logic, then, long-standing relationships are less valuable than quickly formed relationship. Why? Because long-standing relationship require much more effort invested over longer periods of time. Marriages, families, office relationships are inefficient in both in terms of fully optimised economic and engineering efficiencies. These systems are designed so that it is more beneficial for you to invest all of your efforts into “quick burst” relationships than endure longer-term, more enduring relationship with people that simply tie you down. Using dating apps as a means of finding true love, then you will encounter hundreds of people attempting to catch your eye in your quest for long-term love and commitment. Likewise, you will make every effort to stand out from the crowd to attract these people. You will need to do more to stand out in such circumstances because the system is so efficient in generating new, non-committal leads or newer contacts. The people you come into contact often lack depth or substance because these are shallow systems where emotional depth decreases the systems levels of efficiencies – people with express real emotions are needy and weak, so keep it moving!

Try applying this logic to the media we consume these days. Much of the media we consume these days is quickly churned out. Whether you like his music or not, it is noticeable that it took Richard Wagner nine months to compose Das Rheingold (from March to December, 1852). Celebrity rappers in the US are capable of turning out two of three hit songs a day with fewer resources. Computing technologies in particular have helped speed up the production process. It is not only production that has sped up, Adel’s hit song Hello was downloaded 635,000 times in a two-week period in the US. Essentially, audiences are consuming more and more media. Producers are producing more and more music. For a good song to break into charts, it already has to compete with vaster amounts of music produced for music markets.

The oddest things to emerge as a result of this drive for efficiency are brand-new pre-worn clothes. High street shops stock clothing that has been designed to look as if it has already been worn in, over a long period of time. The dusty old baseball caps, or wrinkly, time-honored leather jackets, worn by celebrities in movies can be picked up and worn in a day. Rustic or antique-style furniture can be newly purchased without waiting for it to mature or age. Waiting for furniture of clothes to age clogs up the production and consumption cycle, buying newly manufactured old stuff keeps the economic cycle turning quicker and more efficiently.

Yes, you may get all these commodities home and set them up and feel quickly gratified. But this is not the last impulse you should feel. What then is required is a feeling of instant discontentment and a subsequent urge, need or desire to consume more. How is such a desire cultivated? This craving for more is embedded within the products you quickly consume. They have been produced using minimum resources, very little human labour, and you come into contact with very few people in the act of shopping or paying for them. Why? This is the most efficient way of producing and consuming commodities.

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This is not a new argument. Jean-François Lyotard argued this in his famous book The Postmodern Condition. Whilst Lyotard has been torn apart for using the “post-” prefix, we cannot deny he had an incredibly good point.

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