Instant gratification. Where will it end? In a world of abundance of everything and no need to work for a living, will we end in a state of permanent orgasm? Something like a heroin junkie having their high, but now permanently? Instant gratification heaven, or instant gratification hell?
During tens or even hundreds of thousands of years, our brain has been conditioned for survival. Evolution, yes. The brain has built-in automatic impulses that make us crave for things that give us pleasure, gratification. Such as? Sugar, sex and safety. And many other things.
The point is this. Until, let’s say, hundred years ago, life and survival was a struggle for almost everyone. There was scarcity of everything, of food, of safety, and survival was far from guaranteed. Since the last hundred years or so, lots of people have come to live in a situation of abundance. For many people, life expectancy is extremely high, and survival is not an issue. And we have everything we need at our disposal. And not only all we need, also all we want. And for some, all they could ever want to own or experience. And imagine, that machines, robots and AI, and animals, maybe, would do the work for us. No need to work anymore, just party!
Now, the automatic ‘craving for gratification’ mechanism was very functional in a world of scarcity. It helped us survive as a species. Sugar and meat, for instance, were scarce, so our brain created a mechanism that made us like it and look for it. Always on the run, we were permanently exercising. The need for survival gave us a goal in life. Risk sharing made us depend on each other. Scarcity kept us active. Not having a lot made us respect what we did have.
But the new situation, that some of us are in already, and probably many will follow in the coming years and ages, makes me wonder about how effective this brain mechanism still is or soon will be. Too much sugar and meat make us fat and causes diseases, too little exercise is unhealthy, having nothing to live for makes us depressed, lack of dependency makes us lonely, abundance of everything makes us lazy, having everything makes us greedy. Our brain just wasn’t made for a situation of abundance. (This phenomena that ‘evolved traits that were once advantageous have become maladaptive due to changes in the environment’ is called “evolutionary mismatch“.)
In other words:
If everything the brain makes us crave for is instantly available, what will that lead to?
In an earlier post I wrote about ‘bigger, better, faster, more’. And about habituation. The brain tends to get used to what we have or have experienced. We get bored quickly. You see it for instance in the evolution of social media. First we had Facebook on our pc. It was quite clumsy and laborious to handle. Then we got Instagram on our mobile phone: instantly available short posts, images and stories. Now, we have TikTok: lots of ultra short movies, one after the other, with short moments of instant gratification, such as emotional or shocking events. A continuous stream of short quasi-orgasmic moments. Next may be ‘the metaverse’ where we can live in a fantasy world 24/7.
Where will it end? In a world of abundance of everything and no need tow work for a living, will we end in a permanent orgasm? Something like a heroin junkie having their high, but now permanently? Instant gratification heaven, or instant gratification hell?
Or will we be able to somehow manage our craving for survival gratification? And for what purpose? What will be the new goal, if survival is no longer the proper goal?
And will we be able to do so with our current brains? Are things around us changing too fast for our brains to adapt? Will we have to change (‘upgrade’) our brains into an organism that serves the achievement of the new goal? First of all, this will leave us with two questions to be answered:
- What will be the new goal, if survival is guaranteed? What will be the new purpose of life, if staying alive and getting what you want are completely guaranteed?
- How will our brain have to adapt? What automatic (unplanned, unconscious) behavior should it generate? Or should planned, consious behavior become the dominant system (see: Kahneman) in our brain?
As a thought experiment, we can take a look at people who today have everything they want, the ultra-rich. How do they find satisfaction in life? What do they do, once they get bored by buying even more designer clothing, drinking even more champagne, buying yet another superyacht?
But also, I am very interested what will come in the continuous line of more and more instant gratification eg. from Instagram, Snapchat to TikTok? What will be next, and next, and next? Permanent orgasm? (And can you have a status of permanent orgasm at all, or will habituation kick in at some point?)
Bigger, better, faster, more? Or is there something else?
Sometimes I think, mankind will either end in a collective state of permanent orgasm, or destroy itself entirely.