instant gratification pasta
by Tavis Gray
I was recently told that I make pasta incorrectly. This was difficult to hear for many reasons. The list includes the classics: embarrassment, a distaste for being wrong, and “how dare you point out any fault of mine.” But of all the difficult feelings involved, the worst was that I had unwittingly mistreated someone I so dearly love. The idea that I had committed some kind of incompetence, some error that disrespected my dish, well, it was almost too much to bear. As it turned out, my mistake was also classic. A blunder that has turned up so many times in my life I should know better, or at least be charging it rent. My longstanding crime? I did not wait for the water to boil before adding pasta to pot. I lacked the patience. I did not lack the time.
When introduced to tepid water, pasta quickly begins to break down. The starch dissolves, and without the heat of a boiling point, the noodle cannot set. The result is a mushy carbohydrate, hardly akin to an al dente dream. It is more a certainty than a metaphor that the bones of my Italian ancestors have turned brittle from a consistent rolling over. Pasta in my ignorant hands apparently never stood a chance.
It’s true that pasta has been a constant in my life; through thick and thin, rigatoni to capellini, and certainly when others have disappeared from my table (read: money, dinner company, and money). But it’s also true that the aforementioned and disfiguring trait, my impatience, has followed me since time immemorial. It is my longest shadow. It is the enabler of my every anxiety. And it is a natural parasite: one that has latched hold of my personality, persisted through my every mood.
But it is worse than that. It is more than impatience that I fight. Through what is I assume a backward form of natural selection (or at least a byproduct of Apple’s infiltration), I’ve developed a never-sated need for the immediate. It’s the reason I jump out of lines after five minutes, why I flip to the last page of a book first. It’s why I can’t wait for the water to boil. I simply cannot stomach the idea of waiting. I’m so convinced, should I have visited Disneyland before the time of the fast pass, that the experience would have contracted in me a most cruel form of IBS.
More than anything, the impulse to not wait has changed not just the way I prepare food, but the way I consume media. Instant information has become, for me, a morphine drip without an off button. Just today, I activated a browser plug-in that limits the amount of time I can spend on certain sites, I’m sure you can guess which ones (ok, I’ll tell you: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Bon Appétit). The ever-present access to anything you could ever want to know has not only made a tick out of my forefinger’s endless-scroll-flick, but has exhausted me of every ambition to experience anything outside of a somewhat chronological feed. As far as I’m concerned, the word of the decade isn’t “google” - it’s google it now.
The data doesn’t look good either. An Australian study in the Journal of Social Psychology, which I dug up to express my point in a way that felt conclusively scientific, suggests that “the demand for instant gratification is believed to account for the limited upward mobility of those with their origin in the middle class.” And to think I spent all of last week wondering where my chance at a million dollars walked off to.
I agree that the demands of instant gratification, namely expense and time-allotted (two things that are assuaged by significant or inherited wealth), create a gap on the ladder to the top. But I’d also argue that the problem, when combined with the entrants of social media, social technology, and social everything, crops itself as particularly, I’ll speak it, millennial. Millennials were raised not only on the curriculum of know everything, but that if we didn’t know everything, and at the level required for regurgitation, we’d miss out when opportunity walked itself through any number of doors. It is not enough in today’s world to be a worker of one vocation. Millennials are the generation of the multi-hyphenates not out of ambiguity, but out of necessity. And if we are to be charged with laziness, as those a generation or two above us are wont to do, then it is not a laziness borne inherent, but a fatigue introduced by the demand that we know everything, that we be everything. Staring down that barrel creates its own instant sense of lethargy. In short, we are tired before we even have the chance to be tired. But I digress.
In “The Impulse Society,” the journalist Paul Roberts outlines two essential threats to society today. The first is immediate gratification (from political opinion to why we’d rather Yelp the best option than do the work on our own), which we’ve discussed. The second involves “the power of distraction,” which when “deployed by the market” disables us from attending to our obligations, our responsibilities, and our immediate lives. Though I have trouble commenting on the economic incentive of “the market” to derail our individual ambitions (I will leave this to economists, MSNBC, and Reddit users), I can attest to the distracting power of a super-connected world. Roberts writes that as life moves closer to us, “the” world becomes “our” world. The immediacy and connection of all things creates an issue of ownership: who gets what, deserves what, began what, etc. - and the friction of this issue provides the diversion required to distract us from concerns closer to home. In essence, we are so caught up with everything that we have no time for anything.
The buffet-style quantity of today’s distractions feeds my own self-sabotaging appetite, I know. The reason I spend hours a day on the great suck of all sucks, Twitter, is not because I enjoy my time there. It is because it is easier to do what I’ve been taught, to absorb everything I can, than to face the laundry list of my ambitions, and the off-screen work required to see them through. It is because I lack the patience. And it is because I like likes.
It may be to your comfort or discomfort that a distaste for population-wide lethargy predates the rise of social tech. I think of the futurist F.T. Marinetti, who in 1909 and while diagnosing Italian society as sick beyond measure, declared the disease-spreading culprit as, you’ve been waiting for this: pasta. He argued that pasta was responsible for the “weakness, pessimism, inactivity, nostalgia, and neutralism” he saw around him, and demanded a ban. It is unclear if his grovel lay in portion control, time spent in the kitchen, or something else altogether, but to Marinetti pasta was just as much a threat to society then as instant gratification is to us today. Needless to say, Marinetti was not listened to. No suggestion of a ban could keep Italians from consuming their national dish, just as how no self-imposed social media ban could keep me from Food52’s pasta feed.
Though I have waxed millennial here, the power of social media’s distractions, and the instant gratification complex they feed, is perhaps, I’ll speak it: self-enabled too. I can feel the moment my brain rolls into numbness while whipping past the hundredth quote-retweet of whatever our blocked president last spewed onto the net. I know I do not need to see every update from my sister’s best friend’s cousin’s dogstagram. I know this time could be spent reading a novel, writing a story, or even, dare I say it: eating properly cooked pasta.
I also know, though I have diatribe'd, what the obvious solution to this deluge of immediacy is: we must allow water the time to boil. We must be patient. We must relax our tired fingers. It is through these means that we may find a way to where we’re going. The tortoise and the hare and all that. That is what I’ve decided for us, take it or leave it. Because I, at least, am not evolved or brainwashed or futurist enough to live under a ban. I lack the discipline. I lack the manifesto. But I don’t lack time. You should know that I have plenty of time. I had time for this.
Toast & Tea is the fluf's cultural comment column. It's what's for breakfast.