Instant Gratification

In the discussion about generational divides and differences, one of the phrases that inevitably comes up is ‘instant gratification.’ In a time of unprecedented technological innovation, the digitizing of many aspects of daily life, and Amazon Prime (did anyone see the 60 Minutes segment where Jeff Bezos discussed his plans for 30-minute delivery by airborne drone?), my generation has come to want, to expect, and even to need things to happen, to be known, and to simply be, practically instantaneous. We’re often derided for this mentality; after all, going about one’s life in this fashion is usually what leads to rash decisions (did I really need a new Nerf gun for HvZ), a failure to adequately plan for the long-term (why do I have four labs next semester), and a lack of appreciation for being patient and letting things go at their natural pace (I just wish it was Friday already). Instant gratification is often seen as egotistical, short-sighted, and selfish. But what if this was only half of the story? What if a mentality of instant gratification could actually be described as selfless, farsighted, and benevolent?

If you go the Red Cross website for donating blood, you’ll notice their slogan plastered on the top of the page; it reads, “The need is constant. The gratification is instant. Give blood.” The first time I saw this was when the first time I donated blood during the first semester of my first year at Pomona, and admittedly, it perplexed me. Instant gratification has taken on such a negative connotation because of the implications behind actions motivated by this principle, so it seemed odd to me that a noble cause such as the Red Cross would want to use these words to promote blood donations. But as I lay there on the table this past Thursday, silently watching as my wine-red fluids flowed into a plastic bag, it dawned on me (perhaps some epiphanies are the product of mild oxygen deprivation) that acting with a mindset of instant gratification doesn’t have to mean that you’re only interested in advancing your own interests. Of course, there’s always a small part of instant gratification that’s inherently selfish; if it didn’t give us a rewarding feeling, I doubt as many of us would do things such as donate blood or volunteer time to charities. But seeking instant gratification through an act whose primary goal is the betterment of others; isn’t that what many of us do everyday?

It is this side of instant gratification that I see on an everyday basis at Pomona. It could be the different ways we find ourselves giving back to the community, whether that’s volunteering time at animal shelters, working with underprivileged children, or assisting with large-scale social justice projects in our local cities, states, countries, and beyond. It could be the different ways we find ourselves helping each other out on a daily basis, whether that’s finding ways to cheer someone up after they failed their chemistry midterm, getting someone dinner because they’re bogged down in homework, or simply being there when someone is in need of a friendly soul. When we look at it this way, instant gratification is rather selfless; all we expect in return is a feeling that we did the right thing (I certainly don’t donate blood for the free Coldstone’s coupon), probably because the notion of something as ‘instant’ also seems to correlate it, mentally anyway, with being easy and at little cost to oneself. Suddenly, it’s possible that many small acts, powered by instant gratification, are actually more powerful and meaningful than any singular momentous act. After all, it’s the simple things that count, right?

This side of instant gratification has never failed to impress me in how it manifests itself, and it is this aspect of Pomona students that has never failed to impress me in how we do so much in addition to our heavy academic loads with passion, energy, smiles, and a good attitude (even when we have three midterms the next day). Yet it is because we are all much more than students that enables us to make this community what it is. I witness selfless acts from people of all majors, all passions, and all interests, all levels of socioeconomic status, all races, and all genders and sexualities, all beliefs, all values, and all morals at this college every single day. I have seen people support each other through painful journeys of self-doubt and identity crises (looming deadline to declare a major included). I have seen people stay up all night (and all morning) simply to be a comforting presence for someone after a tough break-up, failed exam, or personal tragedy. I have seen people willing to sacrifice food, grades, and sleep simply for the sake of a conversation that needed to happen. But more than this, it is, like I said above, the little things that count. Just saying ‘hi’ to people everyday, asking how their break was, checking in on the status of the officially undeclared sophomore, and sharing snacks at a late-night study session; these are acts of instant gratification which matter as well. In the grand scheme of things, you will probably describe the little things in your time at Pomona, such as having meals together, chatting briefly in the hallway, or going to mentor sessions together as anything but remarkable or special, but if we stop to reflect for a moment, the continuity and ubiquity of these little acts may very well be a defining quality of our college experience (it is for me anyway). After all, I would rather be part of a community that regularly does kind deeds, even if they’re rather small, than one that only shows its kindness through a few sporadic mega-moments of humanity.

In my almost-year-and-a-half here, I have come to learn that Pomona is not simply a community of scholars, learners, or dreamers. It is a community of people, most of whose kind and selfless acts are guided by instant gratification. Who ask nothing in return. Who may never receive a thank-you. Whose acts may never even be appreciated. But who do them none the less with spirit, passion, goodwill, and regularity. You could choose to view instant gratification as a sign of impatience and selfishness, a decline of social norms and appreciations. Or you could choose to view it as a sign of our aptitude for giving freely and regularly without asking anything in return. So yes, my generation embraces and lives by the mentality of instant gratification every single day. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.