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“To an American, the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one’s mouth more or less continually. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright.” – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Here are some examples of instant gratification that we experience every day:

  • We can get almost any music or song by accessing YouTube, Pandora, or iTunes on the Internet.
  • We can send pictures via cyberspace instantly anywhere in the world as long as there is a computer or other wireless gadget that can receive them.
  • If we are wondering about the etymology of a word, we can look it up on the Internet or a smart phone and our curiosity can be satisfied right away.
  • Want to watch a movie, streaming services can pour it into our TV or other screen device instantly.
  • When we get hungry but do not feel like fixing something, we can make instant noodles by pouring in some boiled water from an electronic kettle, or just heat frozen food in a microwave oven.
  • We can shop online, and the amazing ‘quick service’ can deliver any item within the same day we make a request, if we pay the price.
  • If we see an item at a shop that takes our fancy, it becomes our possession within minutes at the front of the store. No cash? No problem. We can have it on credit instantly.
  • Our bank accounts allow us to look at it any time on-line instantly to see up to date status of our account activity.
  • This list can go on for quite some time…

As a comparison, consider the topic of tree farming:

  • A tree from seed would take about 25 years to become worth harvesting.
  • During that time, all manner of care is necessary to ensure that the tree will mature well.
  • A great deal of shared knowledge is required to allow a tree farmer to know how many trees to plant on an acre of land, what conditions are necessary, and how to take care of those trees, including how to eliminate unwanted volunteer seedlings, design proper water runoff, fight erosion of the topsoil, etc.
  • You can’t just Google this list.  It must be gained from experience.

So what is my point?  Learning is much more related to tree farming than the instant consumption described in the first list.  Timing is almost everything in life.  This applies to a lot more than just a joke’s punch line.  In a joke, it is the cadence, the choice of just how long to pause before letting the line go.  In education, timing should have more to do with the “end” in mind.  The timing of education promotes the contemplation of some or all of the following questions.  If you are currently involved in “getting an education” consider these questions for yourself:

  • How long does it take to “get” an education?
  • When will I be done with my education?
  • How will I know when I have learned “enough”?
  • How does my education affect the generations that come after me?

Consider the differences between our current culture of instant gratification and the mindset of a tree farmer.  The following poem from the modern American literary giant Wendell Berry might help:

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

We must learn to think beyond ourselves, beyond our time.