Sunday, March 20, 2005

The On-Demand Generation

See Christine Rosen's essay in the New York Times Magazine about the perils of "ego casting" technologies like the cellphone and the DVR. (While we're on the subject, let's add a few new-media tools to the mix.)

Is the on-demand economy wreaking havoc on existing and important social norms? Is there anything we can do to reverse the trend?

The near future promises even more of these ego-casting technologies, which offer us greater control and encourage the individualized pursuit of personal taste. Soon we'll carry cellphones that double as credit cards, toll passes, televisions and personal video cameras. At home, we'll merge the functions of these many technologies into a single streamlined machine that will respond to the sound of our voice, like the multimodal browser being developed by I.B.M. and Opera. This expansion of choice and control will foster the already prevalent expectation that we can and should be able to have anything we want on demand.

This is not a world without costs. Having our every whim satisfied at the touch of a button might encourage a childish expectation of instant gratification and could breed intolerance for the kinds of music, film and literature that require patience to enjoy fully. As we use these technologies to increase the pace and quantity of our experiences, we might find that the quality of our pursuits declines. Nevertheless, whatever ambivalence we might feel toward these technologies, we end up buying and using them anyway, not only because they make life more convenient but also because everyone else uses them and so we must as well. The traveling businessman without a cellphone will not have a business for long.

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