Prisoners of the moment

instant gratification

Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YikYak, Instant Messaging (iMessage), Venmo, Vine, Tinder, and so on. What are these? If you guessed–the things aliens would say instead of “take me to your leader” if they crash landed their spaceship into a high school–you’re on the right track. They are apps very popular with millennials, who are believed to have very short attention spans. They are for spouting off your opinions–Twitter, iMessage and YikYak–capturing the moment–Instagram and Vine–erasing the moment–Snapchat–getting paid instantly–Venmo–accepting or rejecting a date instantly–Tinder. The moment is everything with them. For a slightly longer attention span, there’s Facebook, YouTube and Amazon, for airing longer opinions and sharing your everything, watching everyone share everything and instantly shopping for everything. Most of the aforementioned activities are done either on Apple or Google (Android) products.

Facebook owns Instagram, Google owns YouTube and the Android operating system, Twitter owns Vine, Apple owns iMessage, Amazon owns……everything? Eventually perhaps. What are the most valuable companies in the world by market value of their stock? Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google parent), and Facebook. Could there be any cause-effect relationship between their market value and the users–the rest of us (?)–not just millennials, being prisoners of the moment? When I was in 6th grade, I had a history teacher whose favorite expression, repeated daily, was “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history!” I guess he meant, we seem to keep repeating the same mistakes. Why is that? I say it is part of human nature to be prisoners of the moment. The formal name for that state, in behavioral psychology, is recency bias.

“Recency bias” is the phenomenon of a person most easily remembering something that has happened recently, compared to remembering something that may have occurred a while back. Example: A fictional 24 hour sports network has a year-end special called the “Greatest Sports Plays of All Time”. The show features the best ever plays from sports like football, baseball, basketball, etc. The show polls fans to develop a list of the best ever plays. Each year, plays that occurred over the past year dominate the show. Did 70% of the greatest sports plays of all time really occur just over the past 12 months? Definitely not – this is an example of “recency bias”, as we tend the best remember the events that have occurred most recently. Another aspect of the same phenomenon is the tendency to project recent events into the future, rather than looking to a long term historical record, which will demonstrate the wisdom of King Solomon’s “there is nothing new under the sun, all is vanity.”

Except, you say, “technology is new, apps are new, the four most valuable companies in the world are new.” True, technology is new, but human nature is not, and that is what Solomon was referring to. Recency bias, being prisoners of the moment, is old as can be. It is self deceiving as can be. On demand, whether food, video, opinions, or conclusions about the future, makes you a prisoner. The only antidote I know of is, read, read, read: timeless wisdom, truth, the Bible and books by thinkers. Then test what you can. Strive to be free, or remain a prisoner. Unlike being in jail, you actually do have a choice.


Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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