Classic-looking stop watch

Lineups: Time Slipping Away

In the lifespan of seventy years, researchers estimate that humans spend three years waiting in line. My first thought is…only seventy years in my lifespan!? My next thought… more than three years of waiting!? Of course, when you think of all the times you line up, you begin to wonder if maybe three years is an accurate estimate. Airports, movies, buying concert tickets, emergency rooms – you name it, there is the ever-present lineup.

Everyone hates waiting. So much so that you have to lie to others to ensure they will wait. How many times have you told someone, “Just a minute” or, “Just a second”? Is it ever only a minutes or a mere second? Humans want things and they want them yesterday. With current technology, we expect the speed of light. And yet lineups prevail.

If you are like me, you invariably pick the “wrong” line and then second-guess yourself and switch to another line that seems to be much better, but really is not. Then, to make matters worse, the line you left miraculously starts moving more quickly.   Sometimes you compound the problem even more by doing this several times. There is, unfortunately, no algorithm to help you pick the fastest grocery checkout as there are too many factors to consider. Is there a trainee at the cash? Will there be a price check? Or worse, ten price matches? Will there be a cashier change mid-line? Will someone have a problem with their payment method?

Some lineups you join out of necessity, but thankfully occur much less often. Take renewing your passport for example. You might feel you are taking up residence at some Service Canada centres when you pull your number and see that it’s 50 digits away from “Now Serving”. Of course, some people don’t mind taking up residence. They have it down to a system of tents, sleeping bags and other supplies to start a line that will form behind them for an event three days later. I don’t subscribe to that group!

You admire the dedication of those people as much as you despise the people who butt in line. From when you are young in the school yard, you learn the social norm of waiting, and that butting in line is a grave sin. Of course, stardom, Nexus cards, and Disney “front of the line” passes will keep your wait-time clock in life on pause as you sail past the poor souls without a golden ticket. This is a socially accepted line-butting system.

Institutions have tried to solve the lineup puzzle. They provide self-check outs, offer automated bank machines, encourage online shopping, and present a buzzer to advise when it is your turn. But still, many lineups, such as the ones at airports, have no relief. The Transportation Security Administration in the U.S. has recently crowd-sourced the challenge of creating a system that will provide an expedited passage through screening. Let’s hope it meets with success.

Disney World is one institution at the forefront of line optimization. They collect huge amounts of data such as hotel reservations, flight bookings, and historical statistics, and have a control centre with the latest technology and gadgets to predict and respond to congestion. For instance, adding cars to rides and having up-to-date notifications of how long a wait there is for any given ride. If they detect unrest in a lineup, Goofy or Mickey saves the day by arriving to entertain. Their efficiencies improve the number of rides the average person can enjoy in one visit.

My dream is for Disney to spread its magic to the rest of the world. We need to improve systems and turn back the hands of time on our wait clock by a few years.  Ideally, I would love to toss that wait-time clock, break our culture of hurry-up-and-wait, and enjoy life doing what I want to do. And that certainly isn’t standing in line!

Dianne Pinder

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Dianne Pinder

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