Patience is a Virtue…But is it a Priority?
“Patience is a virtue” doesn’t mean what it used to. Technology pervades our lives so much that patience is virtually obsolete. When I was a kid, I watched The Jetsons thinking that future technology would save us so much time that we’d finish our work quickly, then be pampered by robots the rest of the day. Yet instead of freeing us from labor so we can play more, technology seems to have caused the opposite effect. A Pew Research Center article entitled, “Technology’s Impact on Workers” indicates that “Fifty-nine percent of adults take their jobs outside of the physical boundaries of the workplace at least occasionally.” That’s an astounding statistic, unheard of even 20 years ago. And technology’s influence is not limited to work. Because of the ease of online transactions of all kinds, we don’t have to wait for anything. Our need for immediate gratification is satisfied right in the palms of our hands.
So where did our patience go? We still have to wait, but why can’t we do it patiently anymore? At the turn of the last century, people had to wait weeks for products to arrive on the Wells Fargo wagon. Now we can track our shipments from the moment we place an order, and we become impatient if the order takes longer than estimated. It still takes 12 minutes to bake a batch of cookies, we still have to wait to get through TSA for flights, and kids still have to wait for the bus, but our ability to deal with these things patiently has dwindled significantly.
This lack of patience brings to mind an article I recently wrote on Isabella Bird, who traveled all over the world and chronicled her adventures in a series of letters to her sister. She rode for endless miles on horseback, sometimes not seeing mail or even a post office for months. I wonder how her sister’s letters ever reached her, much less how she waited patiently for several months between correspondence.
Why aren’t we better at being patient? You’d think if we place a call knowing we’re going to be put on hold, and the automated menu even tells us what the estimated wait time is, we’d be less frustrated knowing our wait time will reach a limit. Instead, we become less and less patient the more time elapses, and by the time we get to speak to a person, our patience is completely gone. I suppose if we were forced to be patient like Ms. Bird was, and like all people were in the days where snail mail was the primary form of communication, we could learn to be patient about other things as well.
I don’t deny that technology plays an important role in most of our lives; I am as connected as anyone, but I seem to be less patient now than I was when I was younger, before the Internet dominated so much of my free time. I look back on those days as a time when I had the freedom to do nothing, and that wasn’t such a bad thing. If patience is a virtue, as William Langland wrote in 1377, I sure want it back.