Recently, I bought underwear from a certain online retailer, despite the fact that their models look nothing like me, and that they insisted on referring to my items as “panties.” I congratulated myself for saving time on a purchase at once mundane and personal. Plus, no one on the #1 bus needs to see me traveling home with a ridiculous hot-pink shopping bag that screams “I just bought panties—er, underwear!” Really.
As with most online merchants, this one sent me an email when my purchase shipped, and I eagerly subscribed to updates from USPS to find out when my delicate package would arrive. (I’m not saying I needed to do laundry, but I’m not not saying that, either.)
I observed with satisfaction as the parcel departed Ohio, made its way to New Jersey, and then landed in Boston. However, on the next update, it was back in Ohio. I started to worry.
Had they gotten the order wrong? Had there been a recall? I checked my order while at work, cringing as my “panties” came up on screen next to what I confirmed was the correct address. I checked the tracking status again and again as my order seemed to hover in limbo, unchanged over two weekdays.
This is the consequence of living in an era of knowing. At this very moment, without getting up, I can find out if there is a taxi nearby, whether the restaurant down the street has a table for two, or if the library has my book club’s next selection on its shelves. I can deposit a check and learn when the next bus is coming to the stop at the bottom of my street. I know so much already, and that doesn’t even count all of the babies’ first steps, Golden Globe outtakes, and George Takei updates that my friends are sharing on social media right now.
Sometimes, I find myself nearly paralyzed with knowing. I once nearly missed my stop on the subway because I was too busy comparing the pickup times on the three ride-service apps on my phone. I am confounded by the “real-time” MBTA signs claiming that a train is arriving, and yet it’s nowhere in sight. Should I walk instead? Grab a cab because the weather app tells me that it’s sleeting?
I wonder if, by knowing, we are all accelerating towards an era of disproportional impatience, where instant gratification can’t come fast enough. We only half joke when there isn’t an “app for that,” even when we’re talking about something preposterous, because we know it’s only a matter of time before there is.
Finally, my special delivery took a turn back toward Boston. When I saw that it was processing at my local post office, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’ll never know why my underwear took a detour back to Ohio, and I’m not sure I want to know, either.