The mobile phone has made waiting easier. In a larger sense too, the digital world has taken a big bite out of the need to wait. We can pay bills online, complete banking transactions, buy things while twiddling our thumbs or more precisely by twiddling them.
Now one is forever occupied, lost in the screen. There are messages to read and send, games to play and cat videos to watch.
But it has also made waiting a permanent condition. As it has the state of being alone. One is always waiting for something to happen even when something is happening. And we are always alone even when we are with people. We are now perpetually in a doctor’s waiting room twiddling our thumbs, impatiently waiting for the next screen to load. Every time we do something, something else is knocking impatiently on our window pane.
Time certainly had a different quality earlier. Speeches lasted for a few hours. Trains were always delayed by an indeterminate amount of time. We waited eight years to buy a scooter. As a rule, things refused to happen. When anything happened, anything at all, it engaged us. We sat on porches and at windows feeding off from other peoples’ activities. Time had no exchange value. So what if you waited? Boredom was an arena, a large barren space into which imagination had no choice but to bloom. When we found devices that held time at bay, we juiced them for everything that they were worth. Newspaper read word for word. Every book by one’s favourite authors read over and over again.
Interestingly, in the early days of the digital, waiting for a connection to materialise as we dialled up our modems, was a defining element of our experience. Nothing was more frustrating than the sound of the device straining almost physically to break through the static and deliver a connection, and nothing sweeter when success was finally achieved.
All around us, technology is conspiring to eliminate the very idea of waiting. Today, one of its central quests is to completely demolish the gap that exists between desire and its fulfilment. The digital world is focused on finding ways to understand us so well through the data trail that we leave behind and then delivering to our needs with ever greater speed. The world is being served up to us, and the universe is rearranging itself around the individual. Whenever we want something, wherever we might be, the idea is that thought must not be separated from action, for an instant longer than necessary. But this might turn out to be elusive. No matter how much we try, we will always find a way for our reach to exceed our grasp. We will still find some reason to wait.
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