One story making the rounds on the Internet is Amazon’s new Amazon Prime Air delivery system. If you don’t already know about it, the plan is for this system to utilize aerial drones to deliver packages up to 2.26 kilograms (or 5 pounds for your imperial folks) as far away as 16 kilometers (10 miles) within 30 minutes. The drones are similar to the Steadi Drone and the whole idea is rather futuristic. At least that’s what the Internet says.
Beyond the technical, regulatory, and logistical hurdles to overcome to make this a reality, when I read about this the first thing that came to my mind was “how impatient a society are we?” When I was a little kid, besides getting into trouble in the dirt, fields, and forests outside, I had two favorite activities: Legos and video games. Spending my early youth far from a city, saving up enough money to get a new lego set or video game was a big occasion. Waiting for it to arrive was even bigger.
This was before online shopping, so I would order my legos or video games over the phone. Always cash on delivery since I was 10 and didn’t have a credit card. Regarding delivery, the usual line was always “3-5 business days,” and on day 3 I would patiently wait, staring out the window in anticipation each time a brown UPS truck drove by our house. If I wanted to track my order, the only thing I could do was call the company that I ordered it from, and they would again tell me the dreaded “3-5 business days” line. In the long summer months, in between making bike jumps in the nearby hill and plunging into leech infested ponds, I would sit staring out the window wondering when it would be my turn for the UPS truck to arrive. This was especially true after 3pm as that’s when I knew the UPS trucks made their rounds in my area.
When that brown UPS truck pulled into our driveway, I knew my order had finally arrived. Barely able to contain my excitement, I would rush to the front door and wait. Too short to see through the peephole, it didn’t matter because I knew who it was: the video game/lego delivery man! Opening the door, signing for the delivery, handing over the cash, and at last having my new legos or video game in my hands. Closing the door, I would rush to my room to carefully open the package (I always saved them, enhancing resale value) and see what wonders await.
This was a slow process, but looking back on it I have fond memories of the waiting. It made the day that I got my legos or video game that much sweeter, and it was almost as if I was reaping the rewards of my efforts: saving my allowance, reading magazines to find out what legos/video game I wanted, placing the order on the telephone after being on hold for hours, waiting for the delivery, and then finally having my order in my hands. The entire process would easily take a week, if not longer.
Yet today our society – at least in the US and other Western-oriented countries – has become one of instant gratification. We bemoan when we have to wait 2 seconds for a website to load on our smartphone, if our digital purchases download slow, or if our emails aren’t responded to quickly. What happened to having a little patience? There are so many other things to enjoy in life – learning a language, being in the mountains, going to the beach, writing, reading, spending time with friends and family – that I feel a little waiting could do us some good. It could force us to stay away from the things that we are spending so much time with for a while (mostly involving some sort of screen) and give us an opportunity to spend time in more potentially worthwhile activities.
My question is, do we really need 30 minute delivery from Amazon by an automated drone? Why do we need to receive our purchases so quickly? Have we as a society become so impatient that we cannot stop to enjoy some of the slower, simpler, and more natural things in our lives? Will children in 10 or 15 years from now complain that they have to wait 30 minutes to receive their new virtual reality game by automated drone? Will they complain that they have to walk 10 meters out their door to receive it?
I’m sure Amazon’s new delivery system has its good points. There undoubtably will be some instance where delivery of some item on Amazon via automated drone helped someone in some way. But mostly I view it as another example of the impatient, instant gratification nature of our society.
Have you ever worked hard on something? I mean really hard. Spent long hours on it, going over and over it again until you completed it in just the way you wanted. Whether it was a painting, song, poem, book, program, term paper, love letter (or email), video, thesis, dissertation, movie, mix tape (or CD/MP3), a new recipe, or a blog post. Whatever it was, how did you feel when you finished?
I would wager that you felt a strong, natural sense of accomplishment and pride. And I would also wager that you wouldn’t have felt the same if you had the finished product delivered to your door by a drone in 30 minutes. The farther we get into a culture of instantaneous results, shipments, and gratification, the further I fear we get away from what really makes us human.