Here in Macau and generally speaking on this side of the world. You go to a store and you are not supposed to wait. The moment you see a staff you tell him what you want, what you are looking for. It doesn’t matter if he’s attending another customer. He is supposed to multi-task.
The cashier will get someone’s money, give him the change and say “thank you, please come again”, while simultaneously he is talking to you about the product you are looking for. And then he will disappear for a couple of seconds, come back and resume the conversation he was having with you, because he had to get a product in the storage for a third customer he was attending before you arrived.
I grew up in this environment.
Then when I was 18, I moved to Portugal to attend university. First time I stepped into a pharmacy, I wasted no time telling the staff behind the counter what I was looking for. She stared at me: “excuse me, can’t you see I’m attending this customer here? Please wait for your turn.”
Why so fast
People here need to be fast. Fast for what?, you ask. Exactly. I often joke with my girlfriend that Chinese people were born in a hurry.
(She is ethnically Chinese, yet culturally East-West mixed and confused like me. We often discuss these topics because we find the cultural differences quite amusing.)
Chinese people seem to be always in a hurry. People here always want to be the first, weather queuing to get cinema tickets, rushing to a major brand’s store opening or just getting inside the elevator. It’s always a race and you want to beat everybody else, no matter what. There is no time to waste.
And you better get into the rhythm or people will accuse you of stopping the Earth’s rotation – a Cantonese expression meaning you are slowing others down. Move quick, or otherwise just move out.
Either because I’m getting old or because things are really reaching an extreme these days. Or both. I’m getting physically tired and this is what you are reading about.
Apart from people’s insistence in doing things as fast as possible at every moment of the day, technology is a major culprit as well. We do everything with our smartphones and people can’t afford to wait. Everything needs to happen asap because people expect immediate results.
I recently had to update my car’s insurance and called my broker for help. Following my call, in the subsequent moments we had the most frenetic exchange of messages and documentation through our smart phones. Car registration, ID card, driver’s license, you name it. I sent her everything in no time. I wired her the money and in return she sent me the e-copy of the new insurance policy. Done.
The thing is… This all happened during my lunch break with my kids. And this is my main point. I was doing all this while picking up my kids at school, walking with them to a restaurant, ordering the food and eating. And talking to my kids as well, chit chatting with them about whatever. All happening at the same time.
Why did I have to do it all during the lunch break? What was the hurry? Why could I not afford to do it after lunch, after getting back to office?
Most of us now store things in a cloud service, so we have access to information and data at the touch of a button. If somebody sends us a message asking for something, we have no excuse not to deliver. Whenever and wherever we are.
I guess 10-15 years ago that insurance thing would have taken maybe 2 days? And it would be reasonable. If only we could act like “okay, we had 2 days to do this, but we did it in 1 hour. Let’s call it a day, relax and enjoy some quality time”. Unfortunately this is not how it works.
On the contrary. We will make sure to make use of the remaining time to push everything else in full swing, with the same frenetic attitude and multi-tasking all the way through. Texting messages while eating, attending meetings while scrolling social media, sending e-mails while checking the latest on Gaza and Ukraine. This is life now.
Quite often when I get home after work I have the feeling my brain is fogged. I mean, if you think about every task, every activity and every problem you had to go through and solve in one single day. All the people you spoke to, either in person, on the phone, texting messages or sending voice messages.
It’s a massive workload. And this is why sometimes we send messages to the wrong chat group. Imagine you have several groups of people surrounding you, all talking to you at the same time, about different topics and using a different language. This is what’s happening now.
I read somewhere that when the first TVs came out, experts expressed concern at the speed at which information would be presented to our brains. It could be too much, too fast, for our brains to digest and function properly. Too much exposure and people could get crazy, they thought.
This was around a hundred years ago. While I can’t say if they were right or wrong regarding TVs, I feel we are at this very situation now with smartphones. These devices follow us everywhere, exposing us to too much information, pushing our boundaries to accomplish a zillion tasks simultaneously and at record times.
The other day I was at a tourist spot and saw a couple performing a stupid dance in front of a smartphone, probably to be uploaded to social media. I thought about filming them for a post with the heading “And when I die, this is the generation that will take over. Good luck to humanity.” Whatever. I just looked at my girlfriend and shrugged my shoulder.
I’m not signing out this post with a punchline nor any kind of way forward or inspirational bullshit. It is what it is and life goes on because nobody is going to change this anyway. Just my occasional rambling, not the first one in this blog and definitely not the last one.