The Impulse Society
Paul Roberts Bloomsbury, $ 29.99
Worried about the number of times each day you check your smart phone for SMS messages, and emails, or that technology might be changing the way you think – for the worse? Roberts’s thesis is simple but compelling. Even though the consumer society has been in full flight for the past 70 years, information technology has in more recent times allowed business to “satisfy our desires more rapidly and efficiently and personally”. The IT era has made the outlook of people, governments and corporations more short term and more in need of instant gratification than ever before, whether it be an email from an admirer, a favourable opinion poll or a hot-selling product. The rise of the narcissist is part of this trend. In fact, Roberts says IT tends to encourage narcissism. This trend is not helpful when tough decisions need to be made, whether it be reforming state finances, lowering entrenched unemployment or dealing with climate change. But in a world in which selfishness rules, such reform is becoming more difficult and it is making the job of running democracies all the more difficult. And it may help explain the rising level of individual and economic insecurity found in western society. Roberts writes that the irony of the “Impulse Society” is that for all of the emphasis on instant gratification, the end result is more anxiety.