In Roald Dahl’s famous 1964 children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt is a greedy, demanding, manipulative brat who demands everything she wants NOW! She has a temper, is rude, brags about how much better she is than everyone else and berates anyone who has the temerity to question her.
That is not only an accurate description of Veruca Salt, it also qualifies as a pretty good description of many modern-day consumers.
In Dahl’s story, Veruca gets her comeuppance when she interferes with the trained squirrels that Willy Wonka uses to select the best nuts as ingredients for his chocolate bars. She is judged as a ‘bad nut’ and quickly dispatched down the garbage chute. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of encouraging our own worst examples of the instant gratification generation as we pander to the demands of unrealistic consumers.
Normally, I am a fan of technology and the benefits it offers. However, the changes technology is bringing go well beyond how we interact with goods and services. It’s changing the way we interact with each other and not always for the better.
The idea facilitated by technology that everything should be done yesterday (with little or no cost attached to it) is having an enormously debilitating effect on our business and personal relationships. Generation after generation of customers are becoming used to the idea of having their needs fulfilled without any sort of delay or wait. Not only does that put enormous pressure on all of our accepted business systems and practices, it also creates an even bigger problem for society – the death of patience and the rise of anxiety.
Waiting, in modern society, is becoming increasingly hard and, when people don’t get what they want, the psychological response is anxiety. FOMO (the fear of missing out) is officially a thing and companies around the world have been quick to capitalise on this growing consumer anxiety. That can, on the surface, look like a good thing. Don’t want to wait for a cab? Get an Uber. Don’t want to wait for that TV series? Download it and binge watch the whole thing. Don’t want to wait for food, or flowers, or even a date? Get it delivered today from Deliveroo, or Interflora, or Tinder.
The problem is, as our expectations for instant gratification grow, our ability to be patient is being diminished. Think about how quickly we all lose our minds at the thought of a delay, let alone actually experiencing one. That is a far bigger problem than you might think.
Patience has long been described as a virtue and for good reason. Its main function is to help us avoid making hasty decisions. That’s why when you are in the midst of losing it or you are in any sort of trouble, people around you don’t offer up solutions. Instead, they counsel you to remain calm, composed and patient. Patience is what allows us to take a step back and make better decisions.
But the instant gratification that has been brought on by technology encourages us to dispense with patience. Everything is supposed to be available now and that is leading to some very poor decision making by businesses and consumers alike.
Consumers are spending their way to oblivion buying things that they don’t really want or need. Businesses are creating crises that are dragging them under because they don’t take the time to come up with good solutions to their problems. Profits have to be instant. Relationships are becoming ever shallower. Reading of books, magazines and even longer articles is becoming less common. Diagnoses of attention deficit disorder in children have risen dramatically in the last decade, as has the volume of prescription drugs for anxiety related illnesses in adults. We are all becoming ‘bad nuts’ – not least of which because as we lose our own ability to be patient, we seem to demand more and more of that same patience from others.
That lack of patience causes little problems to become big problems, small disputes to become massive arguments and challenging targets to become unrealistic demands. We all suffer as a result.
Willy Wonka’s squirrels understood what to do with a bad nut when they saw one. The time has come for businesses to fight back against the instant gratification generations. We need to stop bending over backwards to accommodate and please our ‘Veruca Salts’ if only for our own mental health.
I agree with Ronald Dahl, send them on their way… down the nearest garbage chute.