The Impulse Society

Summary Written by Ryan Long
"We’ve gone from being members of a ‘whole society’ to being competitors in a race for individual gratification."

- The Impulse Society, page 231

The Big Idea

I’ll Have it My Way

"To personalize is, in effect, to reject the world ‘as is,’ and instead to insist on bending it to our preferences."- The Impulse Society, page 129

Chapter 5, entitled “Home Alone”, was my BAZINGA chapter! In the age of the smart phone and other instant technology, it’s not news that Americans live in our own personal realities. We have the ability to have exactly what we want, when we want it, and if it takes very long we’ll get it somewhere else.

The age of American manufacturing and prosperity after World War II was the first mark of the self-centered society we were moving toward. As technology and manufacturing improved, we began purchasing many things that we had made for ourselves in the past. We became consumers rather than producers because it was cheaper and easier to buy than to make. The more we consumed, the more manufacturers made for us to continue to consume. It was an endless cycle.

Ultimately, consuming more and producing less gave us more free time. Free time evolved into the exploration of the self, and over the past several decades into the ultimate personalization of the world around us. Today’s technology has given us the ability to access any information at any time. We have turn-by-turn directions to our favorite restaurants, personalized music playlists for working out or cleaning the house, and social networks of hundreds or thousands of friends that will validate our feelings by liking our statuses. If we can’t personalize it, we don’t want it.

The reason this was my BAZINGA chapter is because it helped flip the switch for me to have a greater understanding of my audience. I oversee social media and web content to support recruiters. Whether I’m brainstorming blog posts, memes, or video scripts, I will have to look for ways to make them individualized to particular groups of people. There is no one-size–fits-all post. I’ll have to divide my audience into groups of audiences and personalize my way into their worlds.

Insight #1

I’ll Do Anything…As Long as it’s Easy

"Consumer culture does everything in its considerable power to persuade us that adversity and difficulty and even awkwardness have no place in our lives."- The Impulse Society, page 130

In earlier chapters, Roberts explores how manufacturing and finance changed, making Americans more mobile than ever before. This mobility provided the opportunities to move to cities, counties, and neighborhoods among like-minded people with similar lifestyles. While some argue that we are more global and tolerant of other cultures than ever, Roberts believes that we are, in fact, less so. As we surround ourselves with people that think like us, we become less tolerant of people and ideas that are not like ours. Time after time, when faced with an uncomfortable situation that may create an awkward interaction, people choose what is easy. Rather than discuss differing ideas or viewpoints, having a healthy debate, and then reaching a conclusion, people tend to avoid situations that may create an awkward exchange.

My company recruits for direct sales positions. Direct sales is challenging. It’s different. We meet customers face to face in their homes, not in a store. It’s uncomfortable for many new reps because they have never experienced this type of sales presentation. Meeting with clients the way that we do pushes our new sales reps outside of their comfort zones. This book made it more clear than ever that as we move people from application to training to sales person, we must constantly reassure them that “different” and “uncomfortable” are feelings to be embraced, rather than run away from.

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Insight #2

How Instant Gratification has Shaped Health Care

"Our health care culture, with its endlessly snowballing cycles of innovation and expectation, has efficiently cultivated a sense of entitlement and self-service."- The Impulse Society, page 188

Americans are medical consumers. Our instant gratification means that we want health now and we don’t care how much it costs. In fact, Roberts points out that the goal isn’t actually health, but health care. We refuse to acknowledge delayed gratification when it comes to thinking about our health. We seek longer lives but we don’t plan for them by making good, healthy choices along the way. We ask medicine to help us retain our youth in the form of things like cosmetic surgery and pills for erectile dysfunction.

Several months ago my grandmother was hospitalized for a mild heart attack. I visited and even stayed the night in the hospital with her. For the first time I really saw age and mortality. At the time I was a couple weeks into a nutrition challenge and preparing for a short race the following month. I’m generally in good health. I try to eat clean and exercise, although sometimes a healthy lifestyle is hard to maintain. Exercising has only been a priority for me off and on for the past few years and in all honesty that is mostly due to vanity. (Let’s face it; I’m a card-carrying member of Roberts’ Impulse Society.) After seeing my aging grandmother hospitalized, I certainly want to make better choices and take care of the only body I have. It’s clear to me, if not to other Americans, that no amount of medical care can halt aging. What was a big surprise to me is that our healthcare system is set up to encourage more and more medical consuming to treat illness than to encourage preventative care. We have to advocate for ourselves, sometimes push doctors to help us with preventative care, and focus on our own good health rather than consume what the healthcare industry hands to us.

Roberts is not without solutions. His final chapter, “Making Space” gives his thoughts on some of the changes he’s beginning to see in American society, as well as his thoughts on what else needs to take place for the pendulum to swing in the other direction. A groundswell is starting.

Read the book

Get The Impulse Society on Amazon.

Paul Roberts

A journalist since 1983, Paul Roberts writes and lectures frequently on the complex interplay of business, technology, psychology, and the natural world. His most recent book, “The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification,” examines the accelerating and increasingly intimate — and troubling — relationship between the marketplace and the Self. Check out the book’s official website at

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