25 July, 2009

About Waiting

Waiting. You’d think that in today’s super fast business environment that there would be a lot less waiting. Today we enjoy cell phones and email and faxes and twitters and expressways and high occupancy vehicle lanes and mass transit and instant credit approval and cable news and satellite TV and none of these conveniences can eliminate or help us accept lines at the check out counter. Boo hiss anyone who’s writing a check!

The truth is that society takes great liberties with our time. Rush hour traffic… forget about it! It’s certainly the bane of life in a big city. In Miami it can take 70 minutes to drive eight miles during the morning rush hour. Lines are so long that fledgling industries now avail themselves of the time we are stuck in traffic. Solicitors wander driver to driver, vehicle to vehicle trying to sell whatever you’ll buy. OR… perhaps it’s only someone collecting money.

Ever try to call your local phone company? “For instructions in English press one (this is America, why do we need to press 1 for English?). To route your call correctly press two on your touch tone phone. Choose from the following five options. Choose from the following three options. Choose from the following six options. Visit us on line or call our automated service. Please wait while we connect you with a representative. We estimate your hold time to be 6 minutes.” And that’s presuming you have called the correct department.

They know we’re stuck on the phone and so they ply us with ads. Looped audio of how terrific is their new service with an occasional ‘Your call is very important to us. Stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received’. It’s worse if you call your bank or your credit card people. They want to have the whole 16 digit account number right up front... and more than once!

So one day while standing in line at the post office I did some math. If you wait only 30 minutes a week (a conservative estimate considering the supermarket, the bank, the gas station, the traffic lights and of course ‘hold please’) by months end you will have been in line for two hours. By the end of the year your cumulative total has reached 24 hours. One entire day spent waiting. After 20 years you’ll likely have enough time invested to take a three week vacation!

And we love our vacations. We can hardly wait to get into line at the airport or the cruise terminal or the cinema or the zoo. How satisfying it is waiting to be seated at a table in our favorite restaurant. We wait for luggage, our food and our drinks, and a taxi.

The bigger our civilization gets the more it seems to crush the smallest facets of the day. The arduous commute, the frustrated caller, the tormented traveler… and don’t forget jury duty! It seems the more time saving devices we invent, the more time we spend waiting around for them. And here’s a good example: my room mate is standing in front of the microwave yelling “come on, come on!”