Waiting in line is not an acquired taste. No one likes doing it, but everyone has to. It’s not like going out for your first bite of sushi where you either like it or don’t, and it’s not something that grows on you. It’s an annoying reality of our modern world and something we all get stressed out about.
Modern technology is supposed to make our lives easier, and you would think that this would allow us to avoid lines altogether, and in some ways it does. You can shop for clothes, gifts, and just about everything online, heck you can even renew your license plates online, but there are some queues that we just can’t avoid. Online registration for events or courses or those sweet Vampire Weekend tickets all create virtual lines. Traffic jams are also classified as a type of line, so we even wait in our cars.
While some lines are definitely worse than others, there’s an actual science on lines, how we feel about them, and even ways to make them a little less mind-numbingly painful, but more on that later. Here are 15 strange things you didn’t know about waiting in line, and hey if you’re looking to pass some time while in an epic line this article is probably the perfect thing to read.
15. Standing In Line Has Only Been Around Since 1775
Just because lines have been around for as long as we can remember, and as long as our grandparents and their grandparents could remember doesn’t mean that they’re not a fairly modern inconvenience. Lines actually haven’t been around for as long as you might think. As recently as 1775 there was no word within the English dictionary that described the process of waiting in a line-up, likely because lines just weren’t that common. One of the first mentions of a line-up was in 1837, in a historic account of the French Revolution where Thomas Carlyle discussed how bizarre it was when the revolutionaries awaited their turn when making purchases describing the waiting formation as “queues” or “tails”. Maybe life without lines really was a part of the “Good Old Days”!
14. You’ll Spend 2 Years Of Your Life In Line
Whenever I’m in a long line or a traffic pile up on the highway I can’t help but think that this is time that I will never get back. It’s depressing. The average person will spend one to two years of their life waiting in a line with the worst of it being for those who commute to work in cars each day (this is almost as depressing as how much time you’ll spend looking for something to watch on Netflix). Time spent waiting in traffic is more than waiting at a stop light, it’s also when congestion moves traffic from the regular 40 miles per hour down to 20. When average speed of travel is cut in half a commuter is losing 20 miles of travel each hour of their journey in slower movement.
13. You Can Thank Industrialization For That Line At the DMV
When people began working in factories and offices, shift work made many schedules line up. This meant that all of a sudden large groups of people would end work at around the same time. This created big surges of people doing everything from waiting for buses to get home, run errands during the select off hours, including people trying to get things done on their lunch hours in highly populated work sections of towns. You would think that things like telecommuting, flexible work hours, and digitalization to notify people of road closures, accidents, and alternate route planners would make rush hours better, but in most cases it hasn’t. The worst cities for traffic in North America, according to Forbes, include: Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle, Toronto, Montreal, and Chicago.
12. Butting In Line Stresses Everyone Out
The next time you’re ready to give someone cut eye, or a piece of your mind for butting in front of you in a lengthy line, take some satisfaction in the fact that their actions may be stressing them out just as much as you are stressed about your farther place back in queue. Well-known psychologist Stanley Milgram completed a study in the 1980s on line cutters. He had student volunteers butt in line at ticket counters and forbid them to provide any explanation to the people they’d cut off behind them. The students in the study absolutely hated participating in this experiment. Milgram believed that a person’s unwillingness to follow a line and cut ahead is a valid assessment of the social cost at stake. When someone doesn’t line-up properly they risk being yelled at, assaulted, or placed at the back of the line. For those in line, you often have to lose your place to go and confront the person who cut in front, which means you too could lose your spot.
11. Wendy’s Fast Food Chain & Whole Foods Are Pretty Obsessive About Line Fairness
Certain fast food and grocery stores have a different than standard model for creating a fair line system for customers. Wendy’s provides a better feeling to customers compared to other chains because they guarantee that their customers are served in the same order they arrive in, using a single file airport style line system, whereas places like McDonald’s have people take their chances lining up in several lines with their wait dependent on the speed of the one cashier and the customers who selected their queue. Since nothing quite makes people more frustrated than believing they picked a dud of a line, Wendy’s has cut out this possibility all together. Whole Foods is always busy, but they also employ the Wendy’s method for checkout where people are notified via screens when the next cashier is available to help them.
10. Mirrors Can Make People Complain Less About Lines
In the 1950s, there was an office building, a high-rise, that had multiple tenants complain of a lengthy wait for the elevator during peak traffic hours (in the morning, at lunch time, and the end of the day). The building was examined by a group of engineers and it was reported that there were no viable options to speed up the service for the tenants. The building manager wanted to keep the businesses in the property and looked for staff feedback on possible solutions. One staff member suggested that those waiting were just bored and thought that tall mirrors that ran from the floor all the way to the ceiling near the elevators might help keep people entertained by people watching. After the mirrors were installed complaints dropped dramatically and the building was able to keep many of the tenants they were afraid of losing.
9. Uncertain & Unexplained Waits Feel Longer
When people are provided with approximate wait times via highway signs, announcements or television screens it helps to remove some of the anxiety and stress that is felt by those in queue. Anxiety for these lines is at its worst when a person has no clue how long they’ll be waiting, which is why people prefer the customer phone lines that tell you what your place is in line. If someone in a doctor’s office, which is already a stressful ordeal, is told “the doctor will see you shortly” they will be more stressed out than if they’re told, “the doctor will see you in ten minutes”. Wondering how long a wait will be is a trigger for further annoyance. It’s the same logic as when people are given a warning about high volumes of food delivery orders on a Saturday night because of a big game on TV or bad weather, they’re going to be more patient about delays in their food’s arrival.
8. The More Something Costs, The Longer You’re Willing To Wait
When there is a long lineup at the coffee shop people are more likely to skip out on their purchase— something I did just this morning— compared to when they’re purchasing something more expensive like a phone, computer, or expensive suit. There is a psychology that the value of the object being sold, or service, such as a visit to the doctor or even hair dresser, is more worthy of the person’s valuable time than something smaller like a magazine or shampoo. Research has also shown that people with less money are more likely to wait in a line compared to those in a higher tax bracket. This is because those with more money will place less importance on the cost of the product or service they are waiting for.
7. People Are Making Money Off Of Waiting In Line
People who have more money to burn are also more willing to outsource line time to others, and businesses have successfully launched and thrived by simply waiting in line for others. Some people put up tents and chair space in two primo positions in a queue for the iPhone 4 launch with the coveted position of camping on the sidewalk running around $400 a night. More and more businesses are allowing you to hire people to wait in line for you, run errands, and act as personal concierges to literally do your dirty work for you; all at a cost. Sites like Task Rabbit offer spot holders to wait for you, or perform other tasks, on demand at around $20 an hour. So how much is your time really worth?
6. There Is A Two-Hour Queue At Mount Everest
Experience vacations are becoming more and more popular. We all have items we want to check off our bucket lists, and thankfully our valuing of YOLO seems to be taking a front seat over acquiring things. Perhaps this is why, nearly 65 years after Hillary and Norgay’s conquest of Mount Everest, the spot has become an incredibly popular tourist destination. In fact, it’s become so popular there’s a line up. A journey that could once be described as a beautifully isolated triumph, has become the site of a literal traffic jam, with waits up to two hours at the last obstacle leading to the summit of Everest. The wait has become so long that some believe it’s responsible for some of the deaths we’ve seen at Everest in recent years since oxygen supplies get used up while people are waiting in line at all altitudes to complete their journeys.
5. Traffic Jams Are Lines & Some Of Them Are Epic
Most traffic is just a minor annoyance, but then there are those pileups that last forever. The ones where you could literally turn off your car, or use up all of your gas while you move along at a snail’s pace. Everyone has had that handful of memorable times when a delay has lasted an eternity, but odds are most of us have never experienced record-breaking traffic jams. In 2010, Beijing, China, there was a 12-day traffic jam over a 62-mile stretch. It took people on average three days to make the journey. Cause for the jam: too much volume, particularly from construction trucks carrying supplies to improve the same roadway. In 2011, a Chicago snow storm had over 20 inches of snow fall, with the worst weather coming at rush hour. Accidents and stopped traffic had motorists parked for over 12 hours while their cars were buried in the snow.
4. There’s A Great Debate On How To Deal With Line Cutters
The big issue with confronting someone in line is that you may lose your own space, and things could escalate to yelling or worse. This is why most of the time people don’t say anything beyond rolling their eyes to their friend and grumbling under their breath. According to Life Hacker here’s how you might want to deal with a cutter. First see if it’s an organized line where it’s clear how you line up, if not, you may want to let it slide. Don’t get angry, since if there is a discussion and you’re the one yelling, you’ll likely lose support from your fellow line buddies. Other ways to tactfully confront a butting baddy include getting support for a person or two behind you as to whether or not they saw the cut, and confronting ASAP.
3. Early Adopters & Nerds May Face More Lines
If you want something before all of your friends, or you’re dying to check out that new blockbuster movie on opening weekend, odds are you’re going to wait significantly longer than those who don’t need to be first in line to try out the latest and greatest gadget. Five of the longest lines ever include the three-day wait for the PlayStation 3 in 2006, a lineup that lasted in New York City for weeks when the Apple iPhone 5S came out, the 7am lineup at Franklin BBQ for anyone who wants to get in before noon, the constant multi-day, mile long San Diego Comic Con lines, and the epic 12-day wait in LA for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Being first is great, but multiple days outside for a product, meal, or movie, no thanks!
2. There’s A Science Behind A “Good” Line
There are some places where we expect to be in a line, and in fact it’s actually a part of the experience. Part of the fun of amusement parks is the time you spend in line waiting for rides — no seriously, it is! Themed environments, mascots, music, and other attractions while people wait for the main event, make the time in line a little less painful, and maybe even a little enjoyable. Disney and Universal in particular have found some great ways to keep people having fun. Some areas have lines that are designed like a play structure. So when a kid is climbing across nets or swooshing down a slide, it becomes another fun piece of the Magic Kingdom experience. Another factor is people watching and a crowd is a part of the fun. Who doesn’t like to watch the group that went before them on a roller coaster to see how scared they were of that first giant drop?
1. There Are “Fun” Things To Do To Pass The Time In Line
Waiting in line doesn’t need to be boring. There are ways you can pass the time, even if there are no mascots helping to distract you. Odyssey came up with a detailed list of things you can do while in line to distract you including seeing how close you can hold your fingers to the person ahead of you without touching them, trying to lick your elbow, or thinking about all the people who hurt you over the past year (sounds a little Arya Stark for my liking, but whatever floats your boat). Other, more practical solutions, include listening to a fantastic podcast, playing a game of I Spy with your kids, playing the license plate game, or even catching up on your reading with some great articles featured on TheRichest, just saying.
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