what i watched last week
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instant gratification

A friend posted a note on Facebook that he was enjoying a CD he had found randomly at a store after years of trying to hunt it down. The first two comments read as follows:

Commenter X: Love those moments. It's like finding treasure.

My friend: Absolutely. And they're especially welcome in the internet age, when instant gratification seems to rule.

It so happens that as I read the above, I was listening to Lucinda Williams’ new album, Blessed. As far as I can figure out, Blessed is not scheduled for official release for another ten days, yet here I am, listening and enjoying. And I’m not using illegal means … the album is already featured on at least two streaming music systems (Rhapsody, and MOG, the latter of which I am using right now via my Roku box). It’s hard to imagine more instant gratification than listening to music before it has been released, and, of course, this often happens in the Internet age … “streaming music” didn’t exist before the Internet.

I admit I’m perhaps reading more into my friend’s statements than are actually there. As I see it, the underlying concept is that the “internet age” leads us to desire “instant gratification.” There’s a chicken-or-egg thing going on … do we desire instant gratification and use the Internet to get it, or do the specific realities of the Internet lead us to desire instant gratification? I read the above comment as reflecting the latter. Me, I think the idea that instant gratification rules in the Internet era is putting the onus on technology for giving us what we’ve always desired.

When I was growing up, the minute a new Beatles album was released, I wanted to rush to the record store and buy it. OK, I didn’t have that much money, so I wouldn’t buy it right away, but I’d devour everything that was played on the radio, and if a friend had the album, we’d listen together. I wanted that music NOW. In the Internet era, it is indeed easier to get something NOW, but the desire for instant gratification precedes the Internet. Instant gratification doesn’t “rule” in the Internet age, other than being easier to satisfy.

If my friend had found that stray CD when it was released, many years ago, I suspect he would have greedily and happily devoured it as soon as possible. In fact, now that he has the CD, he is “excitedly listening” to it. The delay between desire and acquisition certainly adds to his enjoyment, but the delay is largely artificial: he couldn’t find the CD for several years, not because he wanted to savor the delay, but because he wasn’t able to feed his desire for instant gratification. Now that he has the CD, he’s listening.

Furthermore, in the Internet era, it is easier than ever to hunt down the music that in the past proved elusive. We haven’t quite reached the stage when every song ever recorded is available at any time and in any place, but we’re getting there. I can’t count the number of times I’ve found a long-lost piece of music via the Internet. In such cases, the Internet isn’t about instant gratification … instead, it’s about finally fulfilling a seemingly endless need.

In the Internet era, we can more easily feed a desire for instant gratification. We can also more easily feed the spaces left by things we have wanted for a long time. Being able to finally listen to a CD you’ve long desired is a treasured moment, no question. Such joys can make an average day into something special. But there is no need to cap off your joy with a shot at “the internet age, when instant gratification seems to rule.” The pleasure of the treasured moment should be enough, whether it comes from that CD you finally tracked down in a brick-and-mortar store, or from the streaming audio of a yet-to-be-released album, grabbed from the Internet.

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