Imagine for a moment that a long time ago there was a secret art, or perhaps it was common practice, where people waited without fuss and hindrance. Do you have that picture in your head now? Good. Allow me to begin.
I just came back from a quick trip to the shop where I bought a can of Sprite and a packet of crisps (or what we shall call crisps for arguments sake). I went to one shop first and then moved on to another shop as it didn’t sell Sprite and I’m not hungover so Korean Cider wasn’t on the cards.
As I stood at the crossroads, myself and the person next to me tried to cross on a red light a number of times, only to be cut off by approaching traffic. I eventually darted over. After leaving the first shop I walked towards another shop, and along the way I checked my phone twice for reasons which will be only described as ‘updates’. After finding some Sprite and a suitable packet of crisps I left and made my way back to my apartment.
Standing by the lift door was a fellow dweller who had entered the building at the same time as I. He pushed the call button for the lift, checked himself in the mirror, then in an almost panicked movement jumped to check his phone, which like me, was some race of smartphone. The screen lit and his thumb lingered over the screen kind of twitching in an anticipatory way I am familiar with, because I know that nervous kind of ‘what will I do now’ expectancy from whenever I do the same thing several times a day.
As I watched I could feel my own thumb stroking my own phone in my pocket, a bit like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings would with the his precious. I stopped for a minute and looked around for something else to do, or something else to occupy myself with for the two or three minute wait as the lift dropped someone off up high and then came down to collect us.
As you can imagine, there was not a lot to do. I looked at some flyers for some restaurants, I looked at the wall and some bicycles cluttered by the door. I rubbed my fingers up against the mottled edge of a pillar to feel if it was smooth or not – it was not – and all because I was struggling with waiting a few minutes for a lift to come down.
What came into my head, and this was merely fifteen minutes ago, was had we lost the ability to wait patiently for something to happen? Are we bored so easily that we cannot stand still and expect what is actually going to happen, and why do we have this sudden urge to fill what is only a tiny piece of essentially empty time with a trivial activity? I could ask more questions here about this same idea but I won’t. This is enough.
Even thinking about this, you almost wonder what did people do before they had technology to fill up so much of their time? I recall that the subject of smartphones came up in a writing class I was teaching, and someone suggested that people must have been bored before smartphones turned up. I got this impression of people sitting around a fireside in Victorian times all leaning on their chins, exhaling deeply, drumming their fingers and wishing someone would hurry up and develop 3G technology. The world can hardly be that boring that we need to entertain ourselves for every moment we are conscious.
I think we’re selling ourselves a little short by expecting the world to excite itself up a little so that we can pay more attention to it. Perhaps it’s time that we stopped setting such high standards of simple pieces of machinery when there are much more exhilirating experiences to be had which do not involve live up-to-the-minute stats and social-media fed responses, among other benefits.
Much of this would require people, and especially this person writing, to slow down and wait for things to happen, because they will and life will probably be just as self fulfilled finding out information tomorrow as it will be today.