Software is eating the world.”

Marc Andreessen’s one lines sums up the overturning of slow and fat industry incumbents by new, technology-enabled entrants who are able to provide improved products and services. The outcomes are overwhelmingly positive for consumers. However, seldom talked about is how these new great products and services are affecting the way we behave; specifically, how they are chipping away at one of our central virtues. Patience.


Consider the rise of the “on-demand economy”, which includes known names like Uber, Postmates, and Netflix as well as lesser known ones like Scooterino Amen (a startup in Rome that dispatches priests on scooters to absolve people of their sins in the comfort of their own home). The reason technology startups have been able to wrestle customers from the hands of larger competitors is by reimagining what the ideal experience should look like. What better than to gear towards providing users instant gratification by providing people what they want, when they want it.

A reinforcing loop emerges where consumer expectations for a fast and frictionless experience pushes companies to design improved products and services. As we move to a society that experiences fewer and fewer waits, people will have less and less patience. Indeed, the data supports the notion that people are growing increasingly impatient. Ramesh Sitaramn, computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts, looked at the viewing habits of 6.7 million people on YouTube. He found that visitors were willing to tolerate waiting two seconds for a video to load before they left. Google publicizes the fact that 52% of user visits are abandoned if a mobile page takes longer than three seconds to load. The company warns that for every one second delay in load-time, conversion falls by 12%.

This movement in support of instant gratification and speed is impacting our behavior even in ways we may not realize. Since we’re always connected with our devices, we are increasingly acting in the moment and expecting the most relevant information. According to Google, the search interest for “open now” has tripled while “store hours” has dropped. People aren’t just making more impulsive purchase decisions, but they’re changing how they plan. The travel industry has to cope with customers’ changing behavior in favor of last-minute trips. Mobile searches for “tonight” and “today” have grown 150%. With this in mind, brands are directing resources to capitalize on micro-moments because they are becoming valuable engagement opportunities. Our disdain for waiting and thoughtful planning signals to a growing problem where we overvalue immediate rewards.

In a Stanford study, kids were offered the choice between a single reward immediately or a reward double the size if they waited 15 minutes. Children who were able to wait were shown to have better life outcomes as measured by factors including SAT scores, educational attainment, and BMI. Our inability to delay gratification can have steep consequences on our personal and professional lives; whether it manifests in higher rates of addiction and shorter attention spans, or even on how we view parenting and career progression.

People are starting to recognize the drawbacks of technology and are looking for ways to calm their minds and actively strengthen the parts of their brain weakened by the very products and services they love. Software is going to continue eating the world and it’s a good idea for consumers, just as it is for the incumbents, to brace for it.