It has already been mentioned in previous articles how, as a result of the accelerating pace of change in modern technological society, there has been an accelerating pace of human activity as well. This accelerating pace of human activity is based on psychological changes in people. In particular, what I have called in the past conative acceleration: the acceleration of the human will. Conative acceleration is a strategy that has resulted from humans trying to block out the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects of the sensory distortion that has developed in modern living environments. It is a posture that allows a person to block out the harmful effects of sensory distortion by creating so much stimulation as a result of intense activity, that the person has, in effect, created his own private field of experience over which he has total control. A good example of this is in the business world today, where certain super-motivated people work tirelessly to build large profitable businesses and even what could be called business empires.
But today, conative acceleration is manifesting itself not only in human production patterns, but in human consumption patterns as well. Kathleen Kusik wrote an article for Forbes Magazine (10/20/2014) called “Retail’s New Battleground: The I Want What I Want When I Want It Generation”. The article discusses her interview with Dr. Kit Yarrow who wrote a book called Decoding the New Consumer Mind. It seems that meeting desires for immediate gratification is a fundamental requirement for retailers in today’s market. Particularly young consumers are very concerned with how they are going to take possession of an item they bought: pick-up or delivery. Big Box department stores like Walmart of Target now have online presences to deal with consumers who want to order something right away.
What is important here is how particularly younger consumers want what they want when they want it. There are different ways to explain this need for immediate gratification. From a psychoanalytic point of view, the need for immediate gratification in terms of products and services becomes a substitute for the need for parental love when the latter is absent. This is a classic explanation of the so-called spoiled child. The parent buys a lot for his child, because he refuses to or is unable to give the child time, energy, and state of mind. Such a situation is typical of certain affluent parents who have very extensive social lives, but don’t spend as much time with their children as they should. Or of some parents who are just too busy working. And in many cases, even when they do spend time with their children, the parents are not psychologically present. They perform their parental roles in a perfunctory manner.
Certainly being emotionally grounded is very important in order to give a child internal psychological grounding and to prevent the development of a sense of emptiness, an emotional vacuum, which the child then tries to fill with products and services that, when he wants them, he wants them right away.
Maybe the parent is passing onto his child the same lack of emotional grounding that he experienced from his own parents. But what if one of the reasons that the parent can’t give emotional grounding is because of his lack of experiential grounding in his physical living environment? And what if one of the child’s reasons for his obsessive need for ongoing immediate gratification is his own direct lack of experiential grounding in the modern vacuum and tension pocket environment in which he lives?
So it is not just parental love and grounding that is missing. On a larger scale, it is the lack of organic flowing blendable continual stimuli in the child’s field of experience, as modern technology starts influencing more and more different areas of his field of experience. Grounded unconditional love is important, but so is the feeling of grounded unconditional connection to one’s total living environment.
This lack of unconditional connection leads to anxiety as a result of the sense of detachment that comes from numbness, the loss of feeling that comes from a chronic experience of an experiential vacuum. The constant frictionlessness created by modern machines like the smooth ride within a car, the sensors that turn lights on and off and activate faucets, toilets and garage doors. The smooth lack of texture of sidewalks and streets, the lack of moldings, beams and ornament in modern architecture and the flavorless empty spaces created inside modern lobbies, offices, and apartments. The feeling of sensory oversimplification with the relative lack of vegetation and sensorily interesting natural landmarks inside most modern urban environments.
But this is not the whole picture. There are also abrasive static stimuli: bundles of defined discrete stimuli floating in a vacuum. Examples of this are noise pollution, air pollution, speeding cars passing on streets and highways, crowded urban neighborhoods, particularly those with high-rises, big shopping malls and construction sites. All these sources of abrasive static stimuli, of tension pockets, make a person jaded or tough in order to withstand the overstimulation. And jadedness like numbness leads to a loss of capacity for organic connection, a loss of capacity for grounded connection, even when the connection should be available in small amounts.
I do not want to imply that a traditional more nature-oriented environment with organic grounding is always a positive thing. Such an environment contains incipient figures, partly differentiated figures that struggle to define themselves. Examples are wild animals and wild storms that lash out with strong winds and torrential rains. Even the strongly grounded components of environments have dangerous aspects. So, on the one hand, nature and more traditional living environments can provide the security of grounding. On the other hand, nature and more traditional living environments can swallow up the individual as a result of the sources of organic perishability within its terrains. The floods, the whirlpools, the quicksand, the avalanches, the sandstorms, the blizzards, the rot, the diseases.
At any rate, this is not the problem for modern technological humans today. The problem today is the sensory distortion created by vacuum and tension pocket living environments. And as these environments increasingly displace traditional more organic living environments, they create a whole series of new problems. And one major problem is this accelerating need for immediate gratification. It leaves people very vulnerable psychologically. What does it mean to not get something when one wants it? Does the person have an anxiety attack? Does the person withdraw from the world into depression? Does the person self-destruct and maybe kill himself, because he can’t tolerate not having things just right? Does he explode in anger and hurt others? All these behavioral manifestations are occurring today among people who can’t get what they want in life when they want it, even when it doesn’t involve commercial products and services. These behaviors are not indications of emotionally stable people.
And yet according to the article by Kathleen Kusik, the commercial establishment simply accepts the needs and desires of the I want what I want when I want it generation as givens that are to be pandered to rather than treated as causes for concern. This tendency towards immediate gratification among today’s youth is but one more manifestation of the pathological effects of sensory distortion in modern technological society. And it indicates a dangerous emotional fragility that could have far-reaching effects not just for the youth of today, but for the future of modern humanity for years to come.
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow