Instant Cures and Quick Solutions, the American Way

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Americans love instant solutions. Chris Prentiss, in a television ad promoting his book, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure, does not claim outright that a cure for alcoholism can be acquired immediately. But there is no doubt that he views recovery as much less than a life-time endeavor. And there is little doubt that he views recovery within some kind of time-frame in which all the recovery/cure process will take place.

For all intents and purposes, once the cure process begins and the client surrenders to Prentiss’s approach, there will come a time when the addiction will be in complete remission (make no mistake about Prentiss’s model here; his time-frame for a cure is quite finite).

Prentiss’s how-to-reach-the-finish line approach is very similar to the world of television ads about instantaneous cures from headaches to menstrual cramps. The entire subtext of these pharmaceutical ads is all about the finishing line, the immediate conquest.

And there is little doubt about the pharmaceutical narrative being played out on television every day: the pain arrives, the patient runs to the medicine cabinet, he opens a plastic container for the magic pill, he takes the pill with a glass of water, the pain subsides. The end of a very, very short story. And, of course, it is always a happy ending.

And how often do we hear the phrase, “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back,” which is not about a refund so much as an up-front seduction into the world of the instant promise that a product will work as soon as it arrives on your front door-step. The money-back guarantee is to assure you of a company’s up-front confidence in its own product—after all, what company would really want to dole out money on an inferior product? And, only an honest company would give you back your money so quickly.

In the land of the stock market, it is often the “speed” of the return on an initial investment that is more likely to win us over than a boring 30-year bond. Hedge funds, of course, run on speed and immediacy. And the sub-prime mortgage scandal was a perfect example of how driven Americans can be by the “instant promise” of lending agencies to clients that they could quickly acquire, hassle-free, the ultimate icon of success in this country—the ownership of a house.

Perhaps no venue in America has contributed to our culture’s obsession with immediacy and the instant cure than advertising. And advertising is all about creating narratives, manufacturing illusions that we can be “gratified” as the Germans would say, “in the blink of God’s eye” (Augenblickgott).

I have also discovered about America that we love to keep track and to measure things. We love statistics, polls, temperatures, percentages, grades, weights, sizes, scores, runs-batted-in, miles-per-gallon. Even when we don’t know specific figures, we love to give a statistical window of error just to make sure that we don’t overestimate or come up short.

It would be safe to say that the game of many Americans is the score-card, in one way or another.

And we do love order in our lives. Hours, days, months are often kept in specific visual frames on a paper calendar or on our cell phones. We can schedule appointments, lunches, dates, a meeting. Once we pencil someone in, once we type in an appointment on our cell phone, we are confident that our lives have some degree of sanity, that our little worlds will never get out of control.

If you notice anything about our culture, we are a driven lot. We tend to be in a hurry, on the one hand, while, on the other, we tend to want to keep everything under control with our firm grasp of statistics and a strong conviction that we are indeed okay because we know our entire month’s schedules.

In many ways, we have become a society of clocks, calendars, sports scores, digital time frames. They are the icons of our groundedness, the symbols that our lives are in order.

So it seems that Americans are all about immediacy and time control. We want instant remedies, and we want our social worlds to be in some kind of order. Whether it is our need for the “right-now-cure” or to have predictable order in our lives, we appear to measure so much of our lives around things happening within a time frame.

Paralleling this fixation for time frames and measurements is our notion that if we put in enough time on our jobs and have enough capital to retire, then it is “time” for us us to leave the nest of our careers to venture out into the pensioner’s world. It is not unusual for near retirees to say, “now I’ll have the time to do what I’ve always wanted to do.”

The new free time, of course, is seen as the goal, not that we necessarily developed any meaningful pursuits that we can now fill out or deepen in retirement. And, for many, retirement is viewed as real time, a chronological state that will reveal our true selves.

Time on the job is often viewed by Americans as a waiting period, a necessary hiatus, an accumulation of eight-hour days in which nothing “real” happens, a time when we are artificially engaged in life, a time used to pay out financial obligations, a time to accumulate a nest egg, a time to get ready for the real event: retirement.

One of the saddest things about American society is that time is given so much weight. We measure it. We fragment it. We put it in frames. We develop so many of our life scenarios around it.

And yet, time, as an entity, does not really define who we are. Our approach to time, however, does say something about how we are more apt to think from the outside in, to measure our worths by all kinds of exteriors, including time spent, time wasted, time gone, time coming. And we all know, of course, that time defines nothing more than a passing, an interval, a physical movement, a cycle.

In the end, I am sure we all would love to say, “I will be something in two years.” We may want to rethink that. But give it some time.

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