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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

May 11, 2013 at 8:58 PM

Is this the end of waiting?

I think I’m forgetting what it’s like to wait.

The opportunities come up, of course. At a bus stop. At a restaurant. At a bar. But I always have the same out.

Wait for my ride? Check my smartphone. Wait for my food? Check my smartphone. Wait for my friend? Check my smartphone.

She’ll plop into her seat 20 minutes late, apologizing and explaining, and I’ll have barely noticed. “Hold on,” I’ll say. “I’m just finishing this email.”

It recently occurred to me that when I check my phone while I wait, I’m not really waiting at all. I’m doing something else. Waiting is an endangered activity in the smartphone age. It’s less a necessity now than a choice.
And who would choose to wait?

“I always think of when we were at Nordstrom, shopping,” my husband said when I told him about this. “You were taking forever looking for shoes, and I was like, eh.”

It’s one thing to flip through an old copy of People magazine at the dentist’s office. This is different. Your smartphone is not just a set of distractions but of actual, relevant-to-your-life tasks.

I can check one or two items off my list from those nice, cozy seats.

They might as well call the waiting room the Get Things Done Until We’re Ready For You Room.

I have to assume smartphones are making things like long lines and late appointments more bearable. When I have to wait, though, even I’m surprised by how irritating it feels.

Like during takeoff and landing. “Put away and stow all electronic devices” and what, pick up Sky Mall? Beautiful views are just out the window, but I can’t do exactly what I want to be doing. This must be what babies feel like when dad takes away their favorite toy.

We’re more patient than ever, sure. But only with our binkies.

No wait is too small for a smartphone to vanquish. When I work from home, the phone is never far. It’s there, ready to go, when I need to not wait for food to warm up in the microwave or for the Keurig to pour a cup of tea.

From there it’s just one small step to multitask. I’ve brushed my teeth and tweeted. Put on makeup and checked the news. And did you know 39 percent of smartphone users admit to using their devices while they’re in the bathroom?

I’ll bet the real figure is way higher than that.

Last week, I pulled up to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. I took my keys and wallet but left my phone. No way I’ll need it in five minutes, I thought. The second the cashier stepped away from the counter to process my son’s new insurance card, I looked for the phone, didn’t find it and realized my mistake. The cashier was gone less than a minute. It was long enough.

But you know, there is one place where waiting is alive, well, and all but invincible. One place where if we have to wait, we have to wait, and that’s that. You guessed it — our smartphones.

I have resorted to some pretty pathetic behavior when a browser page won’t load, or Facebook won’t pull up my new notifications. Hit refresh again. Again. Again. Go to another app, see if it works, then come back. Go to your settings, turn off Wi-Fi. Turn it on again. The radial icon on my iPhone blinks on and on in its taunting little circle dance, doing something? Nothing? Something?

Eventually I turn off the screen, put it away and look around.

I have better things to do than wait.

Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.

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