This is the third episode of Digital Control, a season about how we can transform our relationship with our phone and its promises. Our host is Cristina Chipurici, content creator seeking for ways of doing things better.
In this episode we are talking about how we transformed because of instant gratification.
“Cristina, no one has time to read this much, it has to be shorter!”
“What? A 3 hours podcast? Who is gonna listen to it?”
“Let’s give people some bullet points. 5 steps to improve their lives…”
“Can’t we make some fun and 15 seconds short videos, for Tik Tok?”
If only I would have a quarter bitcoin for every single time I heard an objection like this one.
Or when I thought of it myself.
Even with this newsletter I found myself doing this. I am trying to squeeze in an e-mail something that normally takes me lots of hours of explanations in offline. Everything I learned in few years from dozens of books I read, I am shrinking now in 6 e-mails of just over a thousand words.
Keeping the essence and not loosing your attention. Not giving too many call-to-actions at once, not paralyse you. Offering you a tool in every e-mail, so you don’t feel that you wasted your time. Or worse, unsubscribe.
All these years spent online, hyper-connected and with solutions available 24/7 reprogrammed our brains. They made us seek for activities that give us the illusion of a “quick win” and satisfy our craving for dopamine (yes, we’re blaming the dopamine addiction again).
We constantly want new, varied information, that can still stimulate all our senses and be at the same time in the most possible compressed form. Maybe 140 characters or a funny GIF? Otherwise it’s bad. We are getting angry and spilling it anywhere we can, towards whoever is around us.
Whenever we send an e-mail or a message in a chat, we are expecting an instant reply. We immediately want the like, the comment, the heart. We are ordering online, and if we don’t get it maximum the next day, we don’t want it anymore. We even complain about it publicly. And what if it’s Christmas? What if there’s a red code of snow and the country is paralysed?!
Don’t get me wrong. I am finding myself guilty of all the things I mentioned above. Sometimes I am ashamed with myself and what crosses my mind, because I am not satisfied with anything anymore. Not with me, not with other people.
Technology made us get used to shortcuts. Everything that used to be difficult or unpleasant before has been automatized, optimized, transformed in an easy-to-use app.
I am telling my friends about the amazing book I read and the fact that it could solve the problems they constantly complain about, but they don’t want to go through it. “Tell me what to do!”. They want the solution straight away.
Apps that offer notes from books and compress essential ideas are in trending, they help us not having to read 300 pages anymore. There are social media accounts that summarize them on Instastories or in Twitter threads. There are now influencers that run courses where they teach us techniques of speed-reading (I know it crossed your mind to open a new tab and search it; don’t do it!).
Fitness Apps that promise us results with only 10 minutes of exercise a day are also trending. There are apps even to “delegate” a break-up, so we don’t have to face the “we have to talk” situation anymore.
We can watch anything, whenever we want, we don’t wait a whole week anymore for the new episode to come up on TV, on a certain programme at a set time.
Not even mentioning the news. We don’t want the context anymore; we want to take everything straight from the title. Maybe the lead as well. Do you remember those times when we were taking the news from a newspaper, once a day, and we were searching the dictionary or an encyclopaedia if there was something we were not understanding?
I am not saying that the new solutions are bad by default, but they taught us wrong.
Now we want to get everything instantly – sometimes literally, being only a few taps away from apps that deliver food to our doors. These apps made us lazier. I don’t know you, so I don’t get to judge you, but I can say this about myself; I became much lazier.
DON’T COMPARE YOUR BEGINNING WITH OTHERS PEAK
All this rush for instant gratification keeps us focused on the pleasure of present and it doesn’t help us long term. In this process and this quick consumption, we are losing quality. The quality of our work, of our relations, of our memories and our lives as a whole.
The problem with shortcuts is that it doesn’t help to us to build a strong foundation. It’s pointless to read books summaries every day, if they go in and out of our heads. Nothing is sticking. For a long time I’ve been swearing at books that give the most valuable information in the first two chapters, and the rest of the book is just the same information endlessly repeated, applied in different ways for different situations. Now I ended up understanding their purpose and I am realizing that they embedded in my brain more than any other article giving me the 10 steps to who-knows-what.
I am still fighting with myself on other matters.
Running is the most obvious example. I was telling you in the previous episode that I am celebrating 5 years since I started building this habit. At the same time, there’s 5 years since I’ve been seeing myself as a feminine version of Kilian Jornet (an incredible mountain runner that I admire) and I am getting frustrated for not achieving his performance.
Only because technology gives me access to the best mountain runners in the world, I am reading their books, I am devouring documentaries or articles about them, I am following their lives on Instagram. All this access gave me the illusion that I could also have what they have. I am getting frustrated that I am not progressing faster, that I am stagnating in the number of kilometres I am running, that I am not managing to increase my speed, that I can’t decrease my pulse.
I am looking at what others do, and I am seeing everything they have, and I don’t. I am feeding my illusion that I could do the same things without al those years of hard work they have behind. I am forgetting that they are doing this and nothing else, and they have been doing this for their entire lives. I am forgetting that they don’t have a normal office job. And I am getting angry at myself, because I also want to run ultramarathons at their level, even if I am not willing to invest as much as they did, to take on board the same degree of pain. To make performance in an aspect of your life means that the other aspects will lose balance, but I want to have them all and I have the feeling that it is impossible.
When I am focusing again on all my weak sider, I am trying to remember the advice I give to my friends that start running only now: “don’t compare your beginning with others’ peak”.
The possibility and the hope of a “quick win” extended from apps to the way we are leaving our lives, and it created unrealistic expectations. We forgot how it is to be grateful for what we have.
I am feeling bad that sometimes I am betting against the trends and everyday I am wondering if it’s ok. Everyone is making shorter and more superficial podcasts I am trying to make them long and on difficult subjects. Everyone is making fun newsletters, in a few hundreds of words and with loads of funny GIFs, mine have thousands of words and I don’t know if anyone reads them.
I am trying to trust myself, maybe there are other people out there that look for profundity.
But I cannot stop asking myself: what if I am wrong?
WHAT CAN WE DO?
1. Work on the empathy. Only because you can contact someone instantly, it doesn’t mean that it’s normal to expect them to reply as quick. And when they don’t reply, don’t take it personal. When you send an e-mail and start refreshing the page, hoping that you will get an instant reply, or when you order something and it annoys you that it’s taking longer than you expected, take a step back. Remember that behind the screen there are people. Each of them with their own life, their own priorities, their own problems and worries. Train your empathy and don’t communicate automatically conflictual: “why didn’t you give me what I requested/ordered straight away?”
2. Keep a gratitude diary. It sounds cheesy or lame, I know. I didn’t even want to hear about this for years. Until last year, when I found out that some I admire and is extremely rational does it. The conclusion is that it works, this exercise was among the habits that made a big difference in 2019. I am writing down every day 3 to 10 very specific things that I am grateful for. It doesn’t mean that the bad things suddenly disappear, they just don’t affect me as much. It was like I activated a switch in my brain, I forced myself to focus on the full half of the glass.
3. Stop looking for shortcuts and hacks. They’re shiny and appetising, and our brain is built to look for them and even become addicted to them. Everything that ends up counting or create changes requires time, work and maybe even pain – in your world as well as in the world in general. Be patient and trust the process. Remember that is not enough to go to the gym in January and expect the results to last the whole year.
HOW IS IT GOING?
When you feel like you are losing your patience in the daily interactions? How do you think the access to immediate rewards transformed you? How are you trying to fight these impulses? What have you tried from the tools I recommended you so far? Send an e-mail to . You are not the only one facing these issues.
RECOMMENDATIONS FORM CRISTINA AND DOR
Right after I wrote this newsletter, Andrei Roșca launched a good podcast about practicing gratitude, which I was telling you about above, where he is talking about how it helped him and how to start this yourself. (Cristina) /*This podcast is in Romanian
There’s a lot of boredom in real life and immediate rewards allow us to defeat it. But the extinction of “boredom” means the extinction of attention, of contemplation and of all contradictory and complicated things. How to do nothing (by Jenny Odell) and This is Water (by David Foster Wallace) a book and respectively a speech about what we lose when we are trapped in a world that tells us that everything is about us. If so, how would we expect it to change so it can be good for other people. (DoR)