The Earth of the 21st Century
Written by Julia Kuraś
Final year student of Psychology in City University of London
Our society is used to everything except waiting. In the era of fast food, express bank transfers and instant messaging, waiting becomes an abstraction, and patience is a skill that is almost a supernatural power. Even the fifteen-minute-long rice cooking turned out to be such a long and tedious activity, that the shops became dominated by ready-made meals which you only need to put in the microwave for two minutes. We limit the waiting to the absolute minimum. The proper functioning of pubs, cafes and restaurants depends on the pace of work - after all, no one will wait more than three minutes for their takeaway latte because the bus will run away, a company meeting will start, or the battery in the headphones will die. Three minutes seems so long. During this time, we can view a few photos on Instagram, plan a date with several guys on Tinder and send our boss a message that “terrible transport has failed again and will be a bit late".
In this era, waiting for anything is perceived as a waste of time. We avoid it more effectively than tobacco, alcohol or drugs. Sometimes it seems easier to find sneakers lost in fifth grade, than to steal two hours of someone’s time (and - to be honest, this assumption may be correct). The time when someone is truly listening and trying to understand, rather than nodding and looking for a sublime description straight from the books of Paulo Coelho, so that followers can indulge in reflection, watching an inspiring photo of feet in the sand or a colourful drink. We don’t like to wait, because nothing comes of it - which means that we are not productive, and doing nothing is the worst thing in the world.
We get annoyed when the customer in front of us uses the self-service checkout for more than five minutes (how long can you wait?!). Late for the bus, late for work, late to meet friends. Let’s be honest - we don’t have time to wait. We live from deadline to deadline, from alarm to alarm, lucky people from weekend to weekend. Always in a hurry, always late, always busy. When we have a moment of free time, it seems so unbelievable that we start to feel strange anxiety - are you sure everything is done? Free afternoon? Impossible.
But after all, each of us is free – we can do whatever we want to! We are not limited by absolutely anything - well, maybe only by those deadlines at work. And projects at the university. And queues in stores. And traffic jams, bus timetables. And housing prices. And electricity, and water bills. And our friends’ opinions. And our partner, or our children. And our family. And what people say. And our appearance. And character traits. And a bit by these alarm clocks. And the law. And politics. And the boss’s humour.
When as fully free and independent people, we come back home in the evening, putting ultra-fast rice into the microwave, replying to friends on messengers (we will call them back one day!), ordering the third dress online this month, we can breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve got five hours of sleep before the next alarm goes off.
Of course, this vision may seem extremely dystopian - after all, we’re not that bad. We have some glimpses of awareness, trying to fight the habit of being superficial, devoting ourselves to the things we care about. We can develop passions, build strong relationships with people close to us, create art, be sensitive, love animals. We know what is important to us and the lack of what would make our lives shallow and bland. And yet we are unable to find time for these things. We live very bravely - every day assuming that we still have a lot of days to live. After all, we are immortal, young, worldly, brave. We devote ourselves to unimportant matters, neglecting important things, because “they will not disappear and the deadline is approaching’. It is as if we feed the flowers with the best specifics in the world, forgetting to water them.
We do not like failures because they waste our time - after all, we didn’t do something for the result not to be satisfactory! Besides, failures do not look very good. After all, we try to live a decent, ordinary life. We are coping pretty well - we have a job (a bit overwhelming), a hobby (which we have not practised for a long time, but at least there is something to talk about), friends (we only like some of them), a partner (whom we don’t really know, but looks decent and we can take them to our cousin’s wedding). Until we start thinking about it, it’s even fun. And there is no time to think, so no problem, everything is great.
We love the feeling of possession, and being able to choose makes us feel quite ecstatic. Shopping malls, boutiques, supermarkets - let’s be honest: wide choice gives us a sense of control. You want something, you get it - it doesn’t even take too much effort. Despite that, these things still don’t make us happy. The latest TV set is no longer the newest, a nice vase needs to be replaced by a more beautiful vase, and an elegant apartment - by a larger loft. In pursuit of perfection, we lose things which make us happy, and as a result, we’re becoming miserable. After all, if something is good, it can be even better. It’s such a never-ending run - unfortunately, at our own request.
A pandemic breaks out. Exactly the same world that has accustomed us to comfort and haste, development and the lack of self-reflection, stops. The isolation process begins and we cannot leave our houses. We work remotely or we don’t work at all. We cannot go outside without giving a specific reason, we cannot meet a group of friends.
Projects and deadlines have been suspended, transport too, and extremely important meetings can be postponed. We promise ourselves that it will be different this time. We will re-evaluate our lives, we will look deeper into our own morality, we will appreciate the people around us. We will enjoy small things, see more, love more. We will appreciate everything here and now. We have time now. A lot of time. So much, that it is uncomfortable. Nothing is certain, nobody knows when and how it will end, whether we will return to ‚normal’ in the form we have known it so far. Right now, we are cursed with the presence of the person we fear the most - ourselves. Left with our thoughts and emotions, worries and joys, with a bared ego that we cannot postpone like a deadline or retouch with an Instagram filter. We are waiting.