The immediacy of technology is, on one hand, an asset. We can stay in touch with family and friends at lightning speed. It allows for interaction in real-time, as well as quick review and publication of legitimate, edited information intended for a wide, general audience, as well as peer-reviewed scholarly information geared for a more educated, more specialized audience.
Unfortunately, however, a resource that is as open as the Internet also has a substantial downside. Egregious perils lurk behind the curtain of credibility and accuracy. The fact that, first of all, almost anyone can publish anything on the Internet—and, with a little skill—make it look professional and, second, that a push of a button sends out info that forever resides in a cloud of information—even if “deleted”—can be problematic.
Case in point: this past Monday afternoon, I got on the Internet to complete some work for my classes I teach. The first news story that appeared informed me that guitarist / singer Tom Petty had died after having been found unconscious at his Malibu home Sunday due to cardiac arrest. He was breathing—albeit shallowly—and his heart was still beating. However, he had no brain activity and was put on life support at the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center. I immediately begin searching to verify his death, as he was a musician who provided the soundtrack to my high school years in the 1990s.
One of the first places that I generally go online when I hear of a celebrity death in which I am interested, interestingly, is to Wikipedia to see if his or her information page has been updated with a death date. Sure enough, on Petty’s page, some plain Joe—as the ability to edit Wikipedia is accessible to anyone—had already added Monday as Petty’s death date. The first sentence read that Petty “WAS an American rock musician, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer.” There it was in past tense: in black and white letters on the page, so it must be true. Just for good measure, I also searched for other articles. CBS News and Rolling Stone were also reporting the musician’s death.
In a matter of a few short hours, the stories on social media began changing. Petty wasn’t dead after all. He was still clinging to existence on life support, although there had indeed been no brain activity. Major news outlets began revising their stories. His fans were left waiting on tenterhooks, hoping against hope that he might pull through. Alas, he did not, as he died later that evening at 8:40 PST, surrounded, as the news articles all seemed to sum it up, by his “family, his bandmates, and his friends.”
Perhaps in a society so attuned to instant gratification, we want everything now. We get impatient when we have to wait a second too long. We get our restaurant meals and our groceries delivered to our door or brought to our car. We get our movies and TV programs streamed on demand. We get our packages shipped within one to two days now as expected procedure.
Many of us—especially Gen Xers like myself and the younger Millennials are guilty of the malady, but older generations such as the Baby Boomers are also entering the fray, as the desire for increased immediacy and the accompanying lack of patience seem to be a growing emblem of our overall culture. In 2013, The Boston Globe highlighted this situation in an article titled “Instant gratification is making us perpetually impatient.” It labels our society as “hyperconnected.” According to reporter Christopher Muther, UMass Amherst computer science professor Ramesh Sitaraman, “examined the viewing habits of 6.7 million internet users in a study released [in the fall of 2012]. How long were subjects willing to be patient? Two seconds.”
As a result, one of the virtues we have lost is that consideration on the part of the sender of a message that used to be a requirement of delayed communication. Consider, for instance, Civil War-era letters penned when it took time to select one’s words, to write on paper, to get them sent on their way, and, finally, to reach the intended destination. A person could easily be dead by the time the message arrived. Those letters are still a thing of beauty to read because they are so carefully crafted.
It is important sometimes merely to “drop out,” to repose quietly and not get caught up in the glittering web of immediacy that the Internet offers. It can be renewing to be patient with our thoughts in solitude, perhaps listening to music and not necessarily waiting on anyone or anything to arrive. Otherwise, we might, as Tom Petty once sang, find ourselves, “flirting with time” as we rush impatiently through life.
(Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT Martin and is a consultant for the Tennessee Department of Education. She enjoys being a downtown Corinth resident.)