Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Want It Now! (think the Varuca Salt song from Willy Wonka)

If every piece of junkfood I ate immediately made it's way to my waistline, I would be a waif; if every lap run on the track translated into instant improvement in stamina, I'd be running all the time. I would love to be one of those super-fit gym people I envy while I munch on my candy bar. The truth is that I eat LOTS of sugar and sweets and I exercise rarely these days--and since I haven't seen instant results, I don't worry about it too much.

I realize the dangers inherent in instant gratification--real results, real satisfaction, come from gradual, steady work. I look at all human endeavor I admire, and whether it's Michael Phelps or Marie Curie, greatness comes from extraordinary and prolonged effort. So here's my self-criticism du jour: I live for instant-gratification! It's no accident that I was not an endurance runner in track, and one of the real concerns I have about one day doing a PhD is that I would have difficulty focusing on something so minute for so long.

For me, instant gratification is manifested in two main ways: the junkfood mentioned above, and in easy knowledge. I cannot imagine a world where I could not immediately find out an answer to my question. Here are a few of my favorite websites: wikipedia, imdb,, and I love knowing that I can instantly find the answer to almost any question that pops into my head. Here's the problem: the level of knowledge (and accuracy, too, if you want to get picky) gained from such sites is not very impressive. I can tell you what films are Hitchcock's or when it will most likely rain, or find the French translation for "oil slick", but I know little about the use of light in cinema or the weather phenomena that produce freezing rain as opposed to snow or sleet.

It sometimes frightens me to look back on my life and see how much time I have wasted on my instant gratification projects. What would I know, what could I do, what would I have accomplished and who would I be today if I had had the foresight to look to the future results and patiently endure a bit of boredom or discomfort?

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