A few months back, a friend – a freelance journalist I'll call Ethan – pitched some ideas to an editor at a magazine. When he got no response, he sent a polite email, which elicited an apology. Oh, God, I'm sorry, said the editor (I'm paraphrasing; not all editors are this polite), but things are just so busy here! Weeks passed; Ethan sent another reminder, and got another apology: I'll get to them soon! If this humdrum exchange had happened in 1992, Ethan would probably have let it pass, picturing the editor late at his desk, gobbling pizza, surrounded by stacks of letters and articles, calling his sad-faced children to say goodnight from the office for the fourth night running. But it was 2012, and there was a problem: the whole time he'd been pleading overwork, the editor had been visibly active, day after day, on Twitter. He didn't have time to respond to Ethan's ideas. But that video about the guy who turned his dead cat into a helicopter? That was another matter.
The American business guru Clayton Christensen often tells a story from his days as a student at Oxford. He played basketball for the university team, and they made it to the national finals – whereupon it emerged the big game would be on a Sunday. Christensen is a devout Mormon, and playing on the Sabbath offended his principles. The team coach asked him to break his rule, just this once; Christensen prayed to God for guidance, and concluded that he couldn't play. So he didn't. That's the end of the story.
Recently, as part of a personal experiment in the psychology of money, I spent almost a month trying to make every purchase I could in hard cash. So before I go further, I should apologise if you were one of the people who found themselves stuck behind me in supermarket queues while I fished through my rucksack for the little beige envelopes in which I'd stashed that week's notes and coins. (More on these shortly.) Some time ago, in the US, Visa ran a series of ads based on the premise that people who don't pay with plastic infuriate other customers; the slogan was, "because money shouldn't slow you down". I can report that this fury is real. Even checkout staff didn't seem grateful to receive the exact change, counted out in scores of tiny coins, even though this procedure almost always took me less than 15 minutes.