Waiting, waiting for the economy to return, waiting for the jobs to return, waiting in line, waiting for green energy, waiting until Christmas, waiting on the Lord, waiting for this post to make its point, waiting, clearly, is something despised by Americans. Like hyperactive kids needing a sugar fix, we want what we want now. That has been the promise of consumerism. Isn’t it? Why wait. We can have it all now. Could it be we are all witness to the biggest cultural change in American history?
Dr. Philip Zimbardo, sociologist of Stanford Prison Experiment fame, has a theory of time perception that he elaborated on in his book, The Time Paradox. He, using the results of the Marshmallow Experiment, created typology of six different perceptions of time, two poles, positive and negative, for past, present and future. In the Marshmallow Experiment, almost forty years ago, four year olds were given a choice of having one marshmallow now or wait to eat the marshmallow for a few minutes and receive a second marshmallow. Only a minority of the kids could muster the strength to wait and get second one. The researchers found that the children that waited went to have better academic performance later in life. Planning for the future made them better students and led to richer lives.
He has a great little video explaining his ideas. Don’t worry it is not long.
A couple of questions popped up in engaging Dr. Zimbardo’s work. First, how does the world of advertising and marketing affect us? It is clear that one of the major aspects of advertising is to push us into what Dr Zimbardo calls hedionistic present. This is the same perspective of time that all addicts have. We are pushed to impulse buying and getting what we want now. Second, how did the older protestant view of eschatology affected us? Christians were taught and believed in the future as in the future return of Jesus. The Kingdom of God was both here and fulfilled in the future. It did make us a people who would sacrifice for a better future, and this eschatological view formed the backbone of protestant work ethic. In many ways, we are product of planning for the future by our ancestors.
Have we seen in just a couple of generations a switch from a people who see and prepare for the future to now a people who live for current pleasure? This dilemma of time can be seen in the climate deniers, who, at their core do not want to give up their way of life even if it means a not to distant future disaster. This dilemma of time is seen in our not wanting to invest in the future by supporting projects for the future. Duty and sacrifice have been replace by, “I want what I want now.” The final question and the most important, how do regain a since of the future? Or will our future be colored a hazy shade of winter?