Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Instant Gratification

Today I experienced instant gratification on a whole new level. My brother got me an iPod Touch for my birthday (now that’s a good brother!). Another friend got me an Amazon.com gift certificate. The combination made me think: Kindle eBook! I downloaded the (free) Kindle App from the App Store, went to a blog I frequent, AskMoxie, clicked through to the book NurtureShock which she recommended, and with one click, bought the Kindle version, and with the click of a button on my iPod, I owned the book. (To my chagrin, in my haste, I used my 1-click shopping, which paid for the book with the credit card linked to my account instead of with the gift certificate, but that’s not the point here.)

In the space of LITERALLY three clicks, I had the book. It took maybe one minute. Five if you count how long it took to browse to and download the Kindle App. Maybe less. Oh, and I had to enter a password once.

Before Amazon, before Internet Shopping, we had two options: Drive to the store, browse the physical shelves, pick up the item, peek at the price tag, take it to the cashier, and pay for it using an approved method like, I don’t know, cash, and drive home. And, *gasp*, you might have to go to more than one store to get everything you needed. This was the “instant” method. Alternatively, you could order something from a catalog by mail and expect to wait six to eight weeks to get it, COD or check or money order accepted.

Then, 15 years ago, we got Amazon.com and the Internet Shopping Revolution. Now we just had to browse the virtual shelves for just about anything under the sun, take our credit card from our wallet, type a long string of numbers, enter our address, and, voila, less than a week later, you had your stuff, without even leaving your house.

It’s gotten worse. Now they save your information, so you don’t even have to get up to go find a credit card. You click a button, enter a password, and you’ve paid, like magic! You don’t even take part in the transaction anymore; you don't have to get out of bed. You pick something out, and you get it, just like that.

And now, with books anyway (I don’t suppose they’ve figured out how to email clothes or power tools), we can have it with no wait at all. No hoping the UPS guy will come today; no worrying that FedEx has misrouted your item. Click! There’s the book. Click! Paid for and ordered. Click! I’m reading it in the bathroom!

I was floored. And I’m no technophobe. I love computers; I’ve had one as long as I can remember. I was entering DOS commands before a lot of my friends had learned to type. I was slow on getting into the cell phone revolution, and I’ve only just obtained the iPod Touch, but that was a matter of money, not technophobia or reluctance.

But I was shocked by how easy it was. It didn’t even feel like spending money. I didn’t have to get up and go downstairs, find my purse, fish out my wallet, pick a credit card, come back upstairs, type in all the information, and then download the book. I just had to CLICK. Amazon already knows me! And so does Apple! How very convenient!

But what’s this have to do with the price of brisket in Crown Heights?

Well, for one, you still can’t download kosher brisket to your iPod, and I am now registering my formal complaint on that matter.

But, more to the point, what is this obsession with, this need for, instant gratification? Why do I need to have this book RIGHT NOW? Why should it even be possible? How impatient are we that someone actually thought up this whole system, so that I could have the book I want in three seconds or fewer?

In Judaism, we are taught to work for the sake of the work, not for the reward. We are taught that when we pray, we are to be in the moment, thinking of what we are doing right NOW, not what might come later. When we perform a mitzvah, it is for the sake of G-d and the performance of the deed, not for the sake of a reward we may or may not receive now or in the future. It's not about gratification at all, much less instant gratification. If anything, we might get a reward in the World To Come, which is about as far from instant gratification as I can think of.

Sometimes, maybe it’s worth getting in the car and driving to the store. Enjoy the time out of the house, see the sky, feel the ground beneath your feet, watch the clouds, smell the books, talk to people, oh, and if the book you want is on the shelf, interact with the cashier in order to buy it. And if the book isn’t there, maybe you didn’t need it all that badly, but at least you got some exercise walking the stacks.

If things are too easy, we forget the value in working for them. And the more we can instantly fulfill every whim, the more whims we will need to fulfill, and the faster we will need that fulfillment. This leads us to some amazing things, like the Kindle App for iPod. But it also leads us to recklessness and disregard in our quest to get what we want as fast as we can.

Take a moment just to be. Put down the iPhone when you’ve finished reading this post. That text message can wait, your client won’t notice if it takes three more minutes for you to answer her email, and your kids may as well start learning patience now. Do a mitzvah for the sake of the mitzvah. Here are some ideas for a simple mitzvah you can perform: Say a blessing over kosher food, ritually wash your hands when you wake up in the morning, say the Shema before you go to sleep, light Shabbos candles, give tzedakah, study Torah. If you need instructions on performing any of these mitzvot, or you want more ideas, feel free to leave me a comment, contact your rabbi, or (and I laugh even typing it) Google it.

Hey, the internet isn’t ALL bad.

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