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Anthropology in Practice

Anthropology in Practice


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How Do We Wait?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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There was a wait for tables at the restaurant S and I went to on Saturday. Here’s a look at how people passed the time. You may notice a similarity (sorry the pictures are a little dark):

Very few people were “just” talking—without their phone in their hand (and in one case, an iPad). Instead, people would view media (e.g., a video, a game) on a device and offer commentary. Or they were texting (and updating the group about the message). Or they were updating a Facebook status. Or taking a photo.

These scenes are definitely not anomalous. What are you seeing? Send your pictures of people waiting and using technology as a means to pass the time to comments[at]anthropologyinpractice.com and I’ll share them here on AiP.

Krystal D'Costa About the Author: Krystal D'Costa is an anthropologist working in digital media in New York City. You can follow AiP on Facebook. Follow on Twitter @krystaldcosta.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. AmoebaMike 12:30 pm 11/7/2011

    I’ve noticed this a lot over the past few years with the growth of smart phones. It shows just how little boredom we’re able to tolerate these days.

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  2. 2. Krystal D'Costa in reply to Krystal D'Costa 9:28 pm 11/7/2011

    Mike, I think these devices are changing our relationship with time in that we don’t have a sense for how to be unoccupied. I think it’s increasingly unacceptable to be idle and these devices increase the visibility of how busy we actually are. There’s also a social aspect—i.e., I don’t want to be the loser standing here by myself while I wait for people, so I’ll just do something on my phone. I admit that I may have done the latter a time or two :)

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  3. 3. wendyxc 3:30 pm 11/8/2011

    I’m curious to see the eventual effects of the ability to be constantly doing something. Will there be less writing? Less art? Fewer new ideas? Isn’t non-activity an important, well, activity?

    Will friendships change? Will people not get to the levels of intimacy that can come from spending quiet time together?

    And what will the positive results be? Will people truly be able to multitask (a skill that is actually quite rare now)? Will new ways of interaction develop that we can’t even imagine now?

    As a middle-aged person, I find it hard to comprehend what the brains of younger people must be like. My brain developed in response to a quieter world with way less stimulation. My niece and nephew’s brains developed in a speedier world with very different demands. Would their brains look quite different from mine on an MRI?

    O brave new world! That has such people in it!

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  4. 4. augustin25 8:50 pm 11/8/2011

    Another angle is what this means for social relationships. How many of those people are waiting with others and ignoring or only paying partial attention to them? Of course, it’s also worth noting that people texting, emailing, IMing, etc. are engaged with others who aren’t actually present.

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  5. 5. Krystal D'Costa in reply to Krystal D'Costa 3:20 pm 11/9/2011

    Augustin, the issue of social relationships is so complex. On the one hand, yes, partial attention is likely what the company is getting. On the other hand, the constant contact might strengthen the overall ties of the social group if the people who aren’t physically present are in some way connected to the group at hand. I think updating your Facebook status and including the present group, or serving as the “text liaison” for the group to connect with someone who can’t be there might help group relations. Or at least I can understand that argument. But if they group is being ignored while the media person is engaged in non-stop texting, then it becomes annoying. I don’t think we’ve quite redefined the nuances of behavior in this situation yet. But it will be fun to watch unfold.

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