HELP! I CAN’T REMEMBER MY PASSWORDS
By Neil Offen
We used to be used to delayed gratification. After all, we had waited nine years for the Vietnam War to finally end. We had waited for the Captain and Tennille to stop. For tofu and Richard Simmons and disco to go away.
We waited to find out the news that happened yesterday in today’s morning newspaper when there was a morning newspaper, which, in fact, was made of actual paper. And if that wasn’t current enough, we waited to find out what was happening on the evening news, which would be on in just another seven hours or so, when Walter Cronkite could tell us what had happened seven hours earlier today.
We could wait to call a friend back because we didn’t know the friend had called us since there was no voicemail on which to leave a message. We could wait for the pot to boil and not get exasperated that it wasn’t an Instant Pot or when the microwave took twenty seconds, not fifteen.
We were so used to waiting we actually had come to embrace the idea of cliffhangers and were reasonably OK with not immediately knowing who shot JR. We could wait until next season to find out it was all a dream and was neither the Captain nor Tennille who had shot him.
Delayed gratification was okay if you’re old enough to remember that a Walkman wasn’t just for walking. For younger generations, maybe not so much.
They expect to microwave dinner in a few seconds or deliver it in a few minutes. They want to find the name of, say, the best Asian fusion restaurant in downtown Indianapolis in a few seconds. They want to receive a response to an urgent text or WhatsApp message not in seven hours but right now. They want to be able to check their Insta this instant.
And they can. If they are trying to think, for instance, of what is the capital of Montana—although I’m not sure why anyone would ever want to know the capital of Montana — they Google and immediately (0.66 seconds, 3,040,000 results) find out, yes, it’s still Helena.
This need for immediate gratification is unfortunate. It means we have lost the ultimate thrill of saying, “Oh, I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight unless I can think of what [that] is.” Getting the answers so quickly keeps us from the reassuring sense that it’s right there, on the tip of our tongues, and if we just had a little more time or perhaps if we had a shorter tongue, we could definitely get it.
Trying to come up with answers to stupid questions by ourselves also had the benefit of making our brains work harder. Searching for the name of that movie with the guy who used to be married to that other person who had been in whatever the name of that TV series was stimulated new connections between nerve cells and helped develop more neurological plasticity and built up a functional reserve that would provide a hedge against future cell loss as we age. Right?
On the other hand, 0.66 seconds does seem awfully attractive even if we first have to look at the sponsored list of the top ten Asian fusion restaurants in downtown Helena.
Carrboro resident Neil Offen has been a humor columnist for four decades and in two countries. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Building a Better Boomer.” His column appears twice monthly in The Local Reporter.