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You Can’t Always Get What You Want (And That’s a Good Thing)

image-of-knish“We don’t have those anymore.”

That’s a waiter talking to me at Ben’s Deli in New York City, one of the last great delis here. I have some time before an appointment, and I stopped by to get a square potato knish. For the uninitiated, a knish is basically an oversized dumpling made with various fillings. Typically they’re rounded, but I love the square potato kind you find at delis.

“What do you mean you don’t have those?” I ask, in disbelief.

“They stopped making them,” he responds.

“Why?” I persist.

“I don’t know,” he says. “You know, they’re easy to make!”

“It won’t be the same,” I tell him. I order a pastrami sandwich instead, and hit Google to see if I can figure out the mystery. Seconds later, there’s my answer from The Wall Street Journal: The factory in Long Island, New York that manufactures the majority of square potato knishes in the United States had a fire last fall, and machinery got doused with water and damaged. Hence, the square knish shortage.

This is the first time in I don’t know how long that I cannot easily purchase something I want, and it takes me aback: Most everything is readily available. Practically every week, I order from Amazon and a box arrives two days later (in some cities, eBay now offers hand-delivered products in about an hour). I can download a movie to an iPad in all of five seconds. I tap the Uber app and a taxi shows up wherever I am.

While these conveniences have made life so much easier, I’m not sure they’re always as satisfying as we may think. When I was little, my dad used to drive our family on an annual trek to a discount designer store that was in an iffy neighborhood in Brooklyn (aka Williamsburg, now hipster heaven). We’d find pricey clothes for great deals, the same kind I now get on online flash sales. Love those, but there’s something to be said about the thrill of a hunt that doesn’t happen in all of one minute. There are no longer many barriers, aside from financial constraints, to getting your heart’s desire and getting it fast. And that can leave us always wanting more.

The side effects of need-it-now syndrome are very apparent: People seething at Starbucks when their coffee isn’t ready within a couple of minutes. The annoyance you feel when your computer connection is slow or the YouTube video doesn’t load in a heartbeat on your iPhone. This culture of impatience could be hurting our children: Teens and young adults — primed since childhood for instant connections to each other and information — are going to have a “thirst” for quick fixes, a loss of patience and a lack of deep-thinking due to so-called “fast-twitch wiring,” reveal the results of a poll by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

I do my best to avoid letting insta-life affect my kids. My daughter used to think my computer was that magic silver thingie where you can click to get anything quickly delivered to your doorstep, but now we leave stuff in the virtual shopping cart to think about overnight. (Sometimes, I have her hand over cash to me before we tap “Order” so she understands there is actual money involved.) We drive to Redbox to rent movies instead of just streaming them; drawing out activities builds up anticipation and helps us savor them more, too.

Not being able to get the potato knish ends up being both annoying and oddly comforting. I still live in a world where certain carbalicious cravings can only be satisfied if some machine in Long Island is working. I can’t get everything I want right away. And that’s OK.

Image source: Flickr/citymaus

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