What? Me Wait?

As published in The Rye Record on February 27, 2012

Some of the best people I know are waiting for college admissions decisions right now. They’ve aced all their AP courses, and taken the SAT, the ACT, and the subject tests numerous times. They’ve scoured their souls for material worthy of a personal essay. In short, they’ve worked really hard to get to this point.

Unfortunately, they are completely unprepared for the one thing they have to do now: wait. I think it is cruel and unusual punishment to subject these kids to waiting, as they have no experience to prepare them. Over the years life has provided so much instant gratification that patience has been bred out of us. Waiting is a skill that no longer seems necessary for survival, as useful as webbed feet on a species that now lives on dry land.

My generation grew up with a modest understanding of the need for patience. I had to wait to get home to use the telephone. For many painful years, I had to wait through the grating sound of a busy signal. I waited an eternity as the dot matrix printer lumbered back and forth, line by line. I even had to wait for the summer reruns if I missed an episode of “The Love Boat”. But patience is a quality that I’ve started to let slip away. I have an iPhone, an EZ-Pass, and Hulu now, and I wait for nothing.

My parents’ generation is still patient. They had to be patient for so long and in such excruciating ways that it’s ingrained in them. These are people that waited until their wedding night! These are people that carried a baby for nine months without ever knowing its gender. They waited until the 5 o’clock news to get caught up on the world and checked the status of their investments by looking at those tiny symbols and numbers in the back of the newspaper the next day. The women set their hair in curlers and slept in them. They mixed flour, eggs, and milk together and waited until it turned into a cake. Some of them even dried clothes on a line. These people were patient, I tell you.

Prior generations sent loved ones off to war only to find out whether they lived or died when the war was over. Imagine how different these peoples’ mindset was. If I don’t have a text from my son within 30 minutes of school getting out, I start to panic. It’s as if we don’t have the faith or mental fortitude to wait anymore, to quiet ourselves and resign to not knowing.

The need to know exactly what is happening everywhere, all the time, has come about simply because it is now possible to know these things. If it suddenly became possible to know on January 1 exactly which days it was going to rain every year, we would convince ourselves that we needed that information too. Future generations would look back at us, baffled at how we tolerated having to schedule rain dates for our picnics or look out the window to decide whether or not to bring an umbrella.

I don’t mean to criticize these kids for being less patient than their grandparents. That would be like accusing them of being unable to learn a language that they’ve never heard spoken. My kids never have to wait for anything. Their grades are available online immediately after every test, their friends are standing by ready to communicate at a second’s notice, and their popcorn is ready in less than three minutes.

When my little one was littler, he used to have an expression to reflect how exasperating it was to wait five seconds for a video game to load: “This is taking SO BORING!” Could he ever have waited for the Pony Express to roll into town or for crops to grow? Try telling him he is going to have to wait three months to find out if he got into college.

We should start retraining them now. Maybe we could slow down the Internet speed in our houses or just start arriving a few minutes later to collect them from school. Better yet, we could change the college admissions process to reflect how we live now. What if there was an app you could download onto your phone where you’d enter the name of a school, your scores, your GPA, and then check boxes to indicate which extracurriculars you’ve excelled at? You’d enter your credit card information, of course, and then wait a few seconds for a decision. The school would text you to say whether you were accepted or not.

And there would be no waitlist. The waitlist is like winning a prize that entitles you to an undetermined amount of more waiting. Trust me, we are no longer built for this sort of thing.