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Instant Pudding

Life has decidedly settled into a routine for me, now seven weeks removed from an active member of the workforce. Not since my early teens have I owned so much of my time. I worked every summer since 12 or 13 years old – by age 14 I was working 5 days a week in the summer – and of course school the rest of the year. So while there may have been a week or two here or there with “freedom” from obligation, these seven weeks are unparalleled. I will mention that my first knee surgery and my broken leg both provided some number of weeks off work, but they were pain filled, essentially immobile weeks so they really don’t count the same.

It is still a little bit mind-boggling to me – the absolute freedom of what I do and when I do it; previously my decisions were always premised on the absolute ever-present shortage of free time. Work almost always consumed 60hrs per week and almost always spilled into the weekends. Frankly, the advent of cell phones and laptops changed the lives of all management personnel and not for the better. Once technology reached that point it invaded personnel time and work intrusion became almost 24/7 between emails, texts, and phone calls – the double-edged sword of technology.

I used to plan out a week’s vacation, making a mental list of what I hoped to get done, both to fulfil my wishes and Teri’s wishes, as well as to maximize my precious little time off and not waste any of it. Absurd in hindsight that one would approach a vacation, defined as a period of time away from work and responsibilities designed to relax, reduce stress, and provide fun, and stress out over each day, planning and executing to maximize the time! But that is the reality of many of us – of you – in the world of the workforce.

Yes, time is constant. Chronology shows us, cosmic anomalies notwithstanding, that a second is a second and that time doesn’t vary – our perception of it can certainly vary as witnessed in Einstein’s marvelous analogy of a minute with your hand on a hot stove lasting an eternity while a minute with a beautiful woman lasting the blink of an eye. Having said that, life has accelerated; we are doing everything at a higher speed, a greater pace, with multiple and dynamic data streams assaulting us. In my childhood, I never called someone and asked where they were; the only phone we had was the hardwired phone in the house so there was no question where they were. But cell phones have changed all that.

When something newsworthy happened, it could take time for the people of the world to learn of it, if they did at all. A prime example: On April 10 1963 USS Thresher was lost with 129 souls aboard during deep dive sea trials. Horrific. A few months ago I was in an antique consignment shop and found an area filled with boxes of Time magazine. After browsing for a while, I found myself looking for April 1963. I found the issue published on April 12 1963, two days after Thresher was lost, and there was not a word about the tragedy in the magazine; that story was found in the April 19 issue. The exchange of information lagged considerably back then; no cell phones, no texts, no tablets or notebooks – no internet – information was slow to move back then.

Today, it is of course, immediate. Something happens in Jakarta and someone in Boise will be viewing it live in real-time on their cell phone while having coffee in their kitchen. We are barraged by streams of information non-stop, as are all the sources we depend upon to bundle and present the news. There is no opportunity to peruse, to filter, to consider, or to evaluate. And this is just the news and breaking events. The rest of life follows with the same velocity: friends, family, and work – they are all accessible to us instantly and relentlessly. Tweets, InstaGrams, Facebook, email, and texts all touch us almost by the minute – ceaselessly. There is no break from it. There was a time I would walk out the door and was alone and isolated from the world. Now I can go into the woods and I am besieged with notifications on my phone. No escape unless of course you choose to turn off your phone or leave it behind, which many of us do not. Because we accept it as normal, as part of our daily life. That instant access to….everything….is now engrained in each of us, for better or worse.

Certainly there is a huge benefit to immediacy of information, there is no doubt of that. But the effect of that upon us has yet to be fully understood or discovered. But to me, surely the biggest impact I have witnessed in general is a lack of patience. People, overall, in my opinion, have significantly less patience than before the advent of the instant information age. At work I used to call it “instant pudding” – that people wanted nothing to do with the proper and documented path to achieve a task; they wanted immediate results. No time to measure out ingredients, to mix them, to heat and cook the pudding, then let it cool – they wat their pudding and they want it now. That “need” for immediacy has permeated every aspect of daily life.

I was driving up Rt. 95 the other day, fairly heavy traffic flow, but moving with intermittent moments of braking. My days of camping in the high speed lane as the alpha wolf – the fastest on the road – are long gone. I reside in the 3rd or 4th lane typically now and have no desire to prove I have the biggest cahoonas or the heaviest foot. Funny but just three or four years ago, for almost a year I had to drive to our other shipyard in Connecticut almost daily, several times I had to make the 100 mile roundtrip twice in a day. And I would often hit 90-95mph (and higher) for much of the trip, getting incredibly frustrated if the guy in front of me was “only” doing 85mph. Shows what the pace of the working life can do to a person.

But I am retired now and I don’t feel that pressure any longer, so I am content to stay out of the fast lane and let the road warriors fight each other. And on this particular day I was watching the traffic flow and it occurred to  me that the moments when we all had to stand on our brakes was due to nothing more than instant pudding. People were in a lane and traveling – well above the speed limit – without issues, but it was not enough: 75 wanted 80 and 80 wanted 85.  No one had the patience to drive within the flow of traffic – they all wanted more. And to fill that desire, they would dart from lane to lane, cutting in front of another car in a different lane in hopes of moving forward a little more rapidly. Certainly, standing back and observing the overall highway it would be immediately evident to a blind squirrel that there was no opportunity to move forward with any more speed. “Negative GhostRider, the pattern is full.”

But these folks were all playing their own private version of Frogger, only vertically instead of across the lanes, attempting to jump from lane to lane to move ahead more quickly than the flow of traffic (or could) permit. Instant pudding. I would watch one riding another’s bumper, then jump left or right in front of the car in the next lane (blinker or not) in hopes of finding an additional 1mph. But while they were doing their thing, every single car behind them, starting with the car they cut in front of, was standing on their brakes. A single car hitting their brakes for just two or three seconds will create a significant back up behind them that can last up to two minutes. (Note here, I have a traffic simulation program on my computer because traffic flow – and the interruption of it – has always fascinated me, so I have actually played with this scenario.)

My point is that the desire for instant pudding by one driver often ends up impeding the progress of up to 50 others, all due to lack of patience. What I observed was constant flow of cars riding in synchronized unity only to be interrupted by a car lane jumping and cutting off someone. What could have been a smooth flow of traffic was an ebb and flow of speeding up and slowing down only because some drivers just had no patience to go with the flow. The funny thing is, the lane shifters cause backups and slowdowns behind them, but they themselves also fall prey to similar poor driving by other lane shifters up ahead of them in traffic, ultimately causing them to have to hit their brakes as well and lose positions, often leaving them farther back than if they had just stayed in their lane.

My little traffic analogy is just a small example of what I see as a greater ill in society that I think is attributable to the insatiable demand for immediacy. Traffic lights are another example. I can still recall a time when the light on one side of an intersection would turn red, the opposing side would instantly turn green. It was like they were on a common switch; one went off and the other went on. Take a look the next time you are at an intersection and can see both lights. You will almost certainly see one light turn red and for some period of seconds of delay, the opposing light will also be red, until the timer expires and it then turns green. Why? Instant pudding. No patience. People see yellow as “speed up” and frankly, to many, as long as they are “close” to the actual intersection even red no longer means “stop”. And because of this behavior, traffic engineers have had to program in delays in light changes. I find it unusual to be at a light when the other side has just turned red and to not see someone still blasting through the light. In fact even with the delay, I have had my light turn green and still had people passing through the intersection in the opposing side. Instant pudding…..

It is an absolute stretch for me to sit here blame the advent of the internet and cellular communications for our lack of traffic decorum and the disregard for driving regulations and common courtesy. I know that. There is also an ever growing attitude of entitlement in many folks today; their needs are above all others’ needs. It is their right to pass through that intersection, even though the law says they should not. This same feeling also plays heavily into the lane shifters I was just ranting about above (was it a rant? I hope not as I meant it more as observational…..) They can cut in front of others because they are entitled to that section of road; it’s their right.

We have fostered and promoted an environment where all are equal, which is wonderful – it terms of human rights and societal position. But we did not include lessons in social responsibility or accountability as we taught this concept of equality. The right is not without consequence to others. Think of Spock in Wrath of Khan (yes, I realize I may have just lost some readers by quoting Star Trek!!). The ship was doomed, all were to be lost. Spock snuck into the engine room to restore warp drive, knowing the high radiation level in there would be almost immediately fatal. With his dying breaths he tells Captain (yes, yes – I know he was actually an admiral then) Kirk that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.” Imagine if Spock had been one of the entitled people; the Enterprise would have been lost and the franchise ended!

My point is that we DO all have equal rights, but those rights do NOT supplant social graces, rules, decorum, or decent behavior. Equal does not mean superior. Yes, it is your right to drive in this lane but it is NOT your right to cut in front of someone else and make them jam on their brakes just for you to get there! We have taught society that everyone matters, which is exactly what we should be doing. But we failed with the second half of the message that everyone matters but not at the expense of everyone else. Social obligations remain and one could argue are even more important than ever before given our current collective of desire for immediacy.

My personal lesson for today dear reader. Go have some pudding – made from scratch. There is much to be said for the anticipation of achieving a goal, oft times more enjoyable than the goal itself. Remember: the journey and not the destination.

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