Science news at the speed of thought

Why do we hurry to wait?

June 16, 2012

People have different styles of waiting. Some need to pass the time by doing something—reading, listening to music, or knitting perhaps. Some become fixated on the event and hover in anticipation, checking their watch or—more likely—their phones every few minutes (or seconds). Some seem to handle delays better than others, though very few seem to be able to pass the time idly. Waiting is as much the product of personalities as it is the result of the social environment of the individual, and airports are a fantastic place to observe these behaviors in situ.

For example, let’s say you’ve made it through security with your carry-ons and your assorted electronic devices, managed to get your shoes and belt back on, and are milling about the boarding area. You’ll join a group of people who are doing the same thing: waiting. Some may be occupied by their assorted electronic devices. Some may be chatting animatedly or trying to restrain young children from escaping into the crowd. And some—though this number is small—are simply sitting, seemingly staring off into space. (These are the folks who seem to make others most uncomfortable. Perhaps because they seem to be more aware of others? Or because their lack of activity is suspicious?) And then the gate attendant arrives, and the mood of the crowd shifts. People start to pack up their modes of entertainment, and start to look expectant. It’s almost time for the event to begin! Soon you’ll be able to board and take your pre-assigned seat!

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