Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?: The Myths and Misery, Secrets and Psychology of Waiting in Line

Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?: The Myths and Misery, Secrets and Psychology of Waiting in Line

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 0761181229

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

How we wait, why we wait, what we wait for—waiting in line is a daily indignity that we all experience, usually with a little anxiety thrown in (why is it that the other line always moves faster?!?). This smart, quirky, wide-ranging book (the perfect conversation starter) considers the surprising science and psychology—and the sheer misery—of the well-ordered line. On the way, it takes us from boot camp (where the first lesson is to teach recruits how to stand rigidly in line) to the underground bunker beneath Disneyland’s Cinderella Castle (home of the world’s most advanced, state-of-the-art queue management technologies); from the 2011 riots in London (where rioters were observed patiently taking their turns when looting shops), to the National Voluntary Wait-in-Line days in the People’s Republic of China (to help train their non-queuing populace to wait in line like Westerners in advance of  the 2008 Olympics).

Citing sources ranging from Harvard Business School professors to Seinfeld, the book comes back to one underlying truth: it’s not about the time you spend waiting, but how the circumstances of the wait affect your perception of time. In other words, the other line always moves faster because you’re not in it.

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with the names of rock bands or beer logos emblazoned on them. Presently a tall first-class petty officer, a recruit division commander (the navy equivalent of a drill instructor), detached himself from a phalanx of other RDCs to direct traffic, barking in a loud, clipped, condescending voice (think R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket; the movie is nothing like my experience of boot camp, but I swear drill instructors model their bedside manner on him, as well as crib most of his best lines).

standing flourished. When lines can regularly last for hours or days, strange local rules of arbitration sprang up. In Poland, for instance, unofficial “queuers’ committees” formed to keep the peace. They signed people up for waiting lists and made each person on that list stand for an assigned period of time. The line stander could then leave the spot, reporting several times a day for roll call. But line standing was not always all desperate jockeying. Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin, for

queues function the same way, to study queues mathematically means more strictly defining the parameters and workings of the notoriously hard-to-define queue. Queue theorists establish the number of potential customers there are, called in queue-theory parlance the source (for instance, the sum total of Copenhagen Telephone Company subscribers or the sum total of people within driving distance of Disney World). They take into account the number of servers, and the average amount of time each

moving further up the ranks. As a dumb nineteen-year-old college dropout who could barely feed or dress himself, for whom the future was a paralyzing maze of choices, I found the simplicity of military life a relief. I rarely had to worry about what I was supposed to be doing next. It was a way of putting off the messiness of civilian life for a while. But this line of thinking leads to the darker side of military life as well: The first step of training is to quash the recruit’s sense of

that’s worth more than, say, five or ten minutes of his time. He’s the sort who, under the guise of being helpful, will fill out customer service cards complaining of the delay—the businesses that have at some point filed away his criticisms must number in the triple digits by now. “Well, you know, David,” he said, in that manner that certain middle-aged fathers sometimes have: They have reasoned out the subject to its logical endpoint and will now impart to you in no uncertain terms the truth

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