For all those who do not yet know my age, I’m about to date myself.
When I was growing up, we did not have the Internet. In fact, we did not have home computers at all until I was a teen. When you wanted to know how to tie your tie, you asked around. Or you went to the library and consulted a book.
For factual miscellany, you could call the librarian and ask your question. Who played so-and-so in such-and-such a movie? Or on which day of the week did May 27, 1944 fall? Sometimes, an astute librarian (e.g., Katharine Hepburn in “Desk Set“) could tell you off the top of her head. Most often, however, she would take down your number and then call you back once she’d researched your question and found the answer.
Calls, by the way, were made from home, not while driving or on a jog. For emergency calls while en route, you pulled over and used your “spare dime” at a station called a pay phone. Oh, and by the way, you actually had to talk to the other person with your voice; there was no breaking up or cancelling plans through text.
If you wanted to see your favorite movie, you usually had to wait until it aired again on television: “Tonight’s regularly-scheduled broadcast will not be seen so that we may bring you this special presentation of … ‘The Wizard of Oz’!”
Once upon a time, we had to know how to read a map. There were whole books of maps, with legends and grids and markers. They were called atlases. And before a trip, you would mark out your destination in one of these books, and then work out which route would get you there fastest. There was no way to predict construction or traffic. If you hit it, you hit it.
When the Internet finally did make its debut, and the 56k modem became available in the mid-90s, we thought we were in heaven. We simply couldn’t believe that we only had to wait a matter of hours instead of days, in order to exchange letters with a friend across the country or the world, or to exchange pictures.
I’m not kidding. It’s all true, I swear.
Lest I digress into telling you that we had to walk to school in three feet of snow, uphill both ways, I’ll stop. But my reverie wasn’t just a spell of nostalgia. I have a point. That is, waiting was the norm. It was expected. It was part of life.
Not so anymore.
There remain a certain few things which still cannot be rushed. Babies. Birthdays. And Christmas. Movie, book and game debuts. A good soufflé. But due to rapid advancements in science and technology, waiting is largely becoming a thing of the past. For the most part, I can have it now. It’s stunning, really.
But I sometimes wonder if it’s such a good thing after all.
You see, back when I expected to wait, I was better at it.
And on the occasion when we did not have to wait, it was noteworthy. Impressive, not expected.
When the librarian called us back with an answer in only twenty minutes, we thought she was really something and thanked her profusely. We talked about such an event with others: “You wouldn’t believe how quickly she got back to me this time! How does she do it?”
We were amazed – more than satisfied – with the “speedy” transfer rate of that 56k modem. The connection time and noises seemed a paltry price to pay for the miracle that would be at our disposal.
Now? We are irritated when the search engine “lags” and takes 20 seconds to return our results.
We’ve gained the world at our fingertips.
And we’ve lost the virtue of patience.
I really sound old and stodgy now, don’t I? But indulge an old man a bit longer.
Patience, by definition, is the ability to graciously wait. It stands to reason, then, that if I no longer have to wait, I will no longer have opportunities to build patience. And that leaves me being impatient.
Impatient with stoplights that aren’t turning when I will them to.
Impatient with learning a new skill or sticking with a new undertaking.
Impatient when others do not get out what they are saying fast enough for my liking.
Impatient with the natural foibles and learning curves of my children.
As patience wanes, other things expand to fill the void. Stress. Irritation. Headaches. High blood pressure. Anger.
As I remember it, we were more content with less, back when patience was in vogue. Ah, but alas, technology is here to stay. There is nothing that can be done about it. Or is there? I wonder if there aren’t still opportunities to build patience back into our lives.
What if I shut my cell phone off during some of my driving time and practiced being still instead?
What if I scaled back daily email checks by half?
What if I chose to wait two weeks after opening night before seeing the latest blockbuster film?
What if I made a rule that I would not use express shipping for personal orders online?
What if I decided that I would not take on any new venture without a verbal six-month commitment to someone.
What if I went to a popular restaurant during peak dinner time and didn’t call ahead, with the express goal of expecting to wait?
What if I looked up a recipe and decided to make dinner, instead of ordering out again?
What if some of the ingredients for that recipe came from a garden I planted and tended myself?
What if I reinstated the idea of a “family room,” where I planned times solely for talking with my kids or playing a board game together?
This type of patience building is not passive. It’s active. Intentional.
I’m a big proponent of the idea that you can get away with almost anything on a trial basis. So don’t go cold turkey on everything at once. Perhaps you could choose one area where you’d like to take the challenge of building purposeful patience, and then do it for a set amount of time. At the end of that time, assess. Did you stick with it? Was it as hard as you thought it would be? Were there any benefits to your sense of well-being? Is there another area in which you might now like to consider making a change?
With some creativity, and a little bit of tenacity, patience might just make a comeback.