By Menka Sanghvi, Sayla, India, 2019

I was in the hospital earlier today for a routine check, and in the waiting room there was a sign that said “Waiting Time: 1 hour”. I felt frustrated to discover this. But I also felt a sense of peace knowing how long I’d have to buckle down and wait. I started planning what I could do in this time. I imagine if I have to go back there in the future for a similar appointment, I will feel less annoyed by such a sign because I’m expecting it.

It comes down to expectations. When I’m downloading something big on my phone or computer, I feel better when a circle or bar of % is giving me progress updates and telling me how long it will take. When I’m meeting a friend who is running late, I feel more relaxed once I know how long it will take. Knowing makes it more tolerable, but it still rarely feels good to wait.

This got me thinking about a bigger question:

Why do we all hate waiting so much?

1. We like to know what the future holds; it makes us feel more in control.

2. Waiting feels like not really “living” as we are in between the activities that matter. We are waiting for something to happen.

3. We imagine we will be happier once the wait is over.

4. Waiting is not a productive use of time and makes us feel stressed because we are almost always busy with pressing tasks to complete.

5. Waiting is boring and we don’t know how to engage our minds.

6. Waiting brings attention to the passage of time itself, which can be quite uncomfortable, perhaps because it reminds us of our own mortality.

To think more deeply about our relationship with waiting, I came across this book called “Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting From the Ancient to the Instant World” by Jason Farman. It’s quite the treat so far, and I also enjoyed this excellent podcast interview of him.

Delayed Response by Jason Farman

Jason writes about how waiting time brings attention to itself in an unusual and negative way. And how our anti-waiting culture is so strong that even a half second imperceptible delay on Google searches will reduce traffic and revenue by 20%! He points out that waiting is increasingly seen as an “antiquated practice that needs to be eliminated.” Indeed this is one of the promises of technology: to help us be more efficient and have less waiting time.

“If we could only catch up with the wave of information, we feel, we would at last be in the now.”

– Doulgas Rushkoff (media theorist)

As a society, we have a choice then: to continue to reduce waiting times on all fronts, or to give us activities to do to “fill” our unavoidable waiting times (such as sitting on a train), most easily delivered through content or gaming apps on our smartphone. Or perhaps there is a third option, which involves changing our relationship with waiting so it no longer bothers us.

Menka – Jan 2019