The Urgency Paradox
As people live longer, some aspects of life are beginning to slow down
Tick, tick, tick. For virtually all working people, there is a clock ticking in the background. Tick, tick, tick.
Much like the rhythm of a beating heart, the sound of time creates a rhythm for our lives, a world unfolding in iambic pentameter, pulsing to the tempo of life.
Some have turned the clock into a sophisticated marketing tool, planning every moment in the finest of detail, placing the timing of their well-oiled business machine front and center for all to see.
“Delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free!,” “One-hour photo,” or “Overnight delivery” were common slogans from 20 years ago. Today, the urgency of business has shifted into an entirely new gear.
An on-demand generation has grown accustomed to an instant-world. Text sent, text received. Hear a good song, own it instantly. Record a funny YouTube video, the world is watching within seconds.
But while many aspect of technology have ramped up, pushing business to the limits, social urgency has slowed to a crawl.
Young couples have somehow mastered the fine art of long engagements. Very often couples will continue to date for 8-10 years before getting married.
After World War II couples tended to marry in their early 20s. Today, with all the background noise of failed marriages and divorce, couples are examining their pre-marriage life through the lens of an extended test-drive.
Many women and couples are putting off childbirth, often waiting until their late 30s or 40s before giving birth to a child. Record numbers of women in their 40s are now pregnant.
With work life and family life becoming increasingly blurred and seemingly all vacations turning into working vacations, there are many new social movements to “live off the clock” and regain control of our lives.
In many parts of Europe and the U.S. the “slow food movement” is gaining ground…. slowly. Slow food is everything that fast food is not. Well-planned, hyper-individualized, slowly prepared, slowly-consumed, and slowly savored.
Food is a common language among people. Our universal need for food creates an important interdependency among us, and it makes sense that our need to form an anchor-post of stability in our increasingly fast-paced world would begin with food.
The Bigger Picture
Taking a bigger picture perspective, as life expectancy increases at a pace of 3 years every decade, much of our personal urgency will disappear. More than half of all babies born in wealthy countries today will live well past 100. Not only will they live longer, but those added years will be spent with fewer disability and fewer limitations on daily routines than in the past.
In the years ahead we will begin to see a greater partitioning between the urgency-categories of our lives. The critical differentiator will be personal urgency vs. competitive urgency.
On one hand, the time-is-money adage will continue to drive the world of commerce and business. We will expect ever greater levels of instant-fulfillment, instant-performance, and instant-gratification. More than instant downloads of music, news, and information, we will demand instant everything from the digital world.
We will also expect reduced times in other areas of life. Basic answers to questions, products delivered to our homes, and resolution of problems will all shift into a higher gear.
But contrary to life in the business fast-lane, other timetables will shift into reverse.
Young people will find little urgency to purchase a home when other forms of living allow them to live free, carefree, and mobile.
Planning for retirement will become an increasingly abstract notion among young people. To them the retirement age is shifting to the far distant end of the life spectrum and may very well disappear altogether over time.
Selling life insurance will also tend to be more difficult with more people living single and living longer.
The popular trend towards creating a “bucket list” of things to accomplish-before-you-die is increasingly being transferred into the category of “less-urgent” as our life expectancy climbs.
It’s easy to see that the pace of life is changing, but not everything is speeding up. People who can make sense of the “urgency paradox” will uncover huge new opportunities in the years ahead.