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The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

The Need for Speed: Our Generation’s Obsession with Immediate Gratification and its Impact.


Why do trends cycle at an increasingly rapid rate? Are we aging quicker than millennials? Has the invention of the “ick” discouraged hook-up culture? Has our access to streaming services, Google, and the Internet increased our susceptibility to instant gratification? Gen Z, is this a call to action (or anti-action)? 

Last week I returned home for the weekend, needing a break from the fast pace of college life. Deciding to catch up on Quinta Brunson’s hit sitcom, “Abbott Elementary,” I opened the Hulu app and waited as it loaded. I grew frustrated checking the Wi-Fi, turning it on and off about four times and logging out of the app and back in twice, and turning my entire TV off and back on. Eventually, I realized I  just had to wait for the app to load on its own. 

As I lay there impatient and annoyed, I wondered what was frustrating me so fiercely. All I had to do was wait. But, as a member of Gen Z, I’m not used to waiting on technology. The last time I waited for technology was in fourth grade waiting for my PC to start up and Firefox to open. But somewhere between Cool Math Games and TikTok, we progressed. But is progression always positive? 

In recent years, we’ve  seen trends go away in the span of one week. Remember the coastal grandma aesthetic? Or the mob wife aesthetic? According to Chelsea Rousso, a fashion designer and writer, the life cycle of a fashion trend has five stages–introduction, rise, peak, decline and obsolescence. When the cycle was named, trends were said to take 20 years to reach obsolescence. Now it takes a matter of weeks and sometimes mere days. 

Social media now plays a vital role in the evolution of fashion trends, and as brands scramble to adhere to the ever-changing (and revolving) aesthetics, fast-fashion stores have been dominating our fashion industry. “Dupe culture” has become one of the growing problems in the ethical and healthy consumption of fashion, and while the cheaper options seem gratifying in the short term, it has been proven that sustainable clothing is the better option. Despite this fact, the fashion industry as a whole is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions making the micro-trend problem larger than a low price point, the problem is the demand.

Gen Z asks for a lot. We ask for policy change, we ask for answers and we ask for these things  to happen as quickly as possible. As a generation of activists, maybe our sense of urgency is influenced by the nature of our causes: world peace, climate change and equality. These are all things that can’t come quickly enough. Being aware of all of these issues can be stressful though, and stress is known to age a person, which might explain why we are presumably aging so fast. The “Gen Z is aging like milk!” fad is another great example of our need for speed. We even think we’re aging quicker (and trust me, we are not … Gen Alpha though? There’s no way they aren’t aging faster. Early onset puberty is literally on the rise).

Despite our stress, however, we do have an unhealthy but not unwarranted obsession with instant gratification. Instant gratification is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the experience of satisfaction or receipt of reward as soon as a response is made.” This phenomenon has reached our colloquialisms as a shameful and abnormal tendency when in reality, we are all susceptible to it. It isn’t unique to our generation either, but the level of it is. While instant gratification can be temporarily satisfying, “over-reliance can create problems by changing our brains, distracting us from more meaningful pursuits, and leading to destructive financial, social, and health outcomes.” The risk is evident, we need to slow down.

Let’s say we are overly reliant on instant gratification. Could  you blame us? We have everything from Google to our favorite movies at our fingertips. Even our pop-culture fix reflects the age-old presence of rumors but on a larger, and quicker, scale. We always need more, and if not more, we need something different, and quickly. Memes become cringy, cheugy (ironically, if you even remember what this term means) and corny within a week. 

Similar to the fashion trend cycle, the fundamentals of virality have been outlined by writer for Forbes Magazine, Sophia Rascoff. She suggests that to go “viral,” a clip must have an emotional connection and prolonged engagement. Her theory provides some reason as to why we’re dismissive of certain trends when they grow–one of which is that they lose the authenticity that initially drew us in. She gives the example of the “It’s corn!” kid losing his popularity as soon as he was hired by Chipotle to recreate the meme. Understanding our relationship to these trends is vital in the criticism of our consumption and disposal of them as fads. While I think that the speed at which we cycle trends is extreme, I think the notion that we are interested only in authentic media could help in finding a solution.

Our exposure to authenticity is limited, but for some reason, we still crave it. Take hook-up culture for example. Despite what some may believe, we are an anti-hookup culture generation. Between the rise of self-care and the invention of the “ick,” we have become very picky. Podcasters explain their “types” by listing off long, descriptive lists, while TikTok users often speak about their standards, too. Apps like Tinder and Hinge have contributed to what Barry Schwartz would refer to as the “paradox of choice.” This paradox refers to the notion that having too many options causes deep frustration–it’s the fallacy that the grass is always greener on the other side, that is, the side you aren’t on. We have become extremely picky in our process of choosing a partner. According to a survey conducted by Refinery29, 74% of Gen Z participants said they “wouldn’t match with a person who has opposing views from them on green issues.” 71% said the same about political views.

While our romantic ideals have grown unrealistic, it’s simply out of a genuine search for authentic connection and comfort. I wouldn’t suggest we lower our standards. Instead, I suggest we apply this way of thinking to other aspects of our lives. If we valued quality and authenticity in all parts of our lives perhaps we wouldn’t be so quick to reload the page. Taking your time with things is underrated and our attention spans could use some lengthening and thankfully, they are conditioned by experience. I think we need a generation-wide break. We could all benefit from slowing down.  

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  • L

    LinhMar 23, 2024 at 1:09 am

    lovely analysis and very thought-provoking. bravo! ❤️

  • A

    AnjaliMar 22, 2024 at 7:02 pm

    This is so well written and timely—-I feel so seen!