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This is a column about — wait for it — waiting, specifically about how much better waiting has become in recent years. It is also an example of exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.
You can open up the newspaper to this article or, even more compactly, read it on your smartphone via a few button pushes and your carrier's (probably exorbitant) monthly fee. You will be entertained by its nimble wordplay and piercing ideas or outraged by its intellectual slovenliness.
Either way, you will have killed five minutes without staring at a clock, gnashing your teeth, or imagining the death throes of the third-grade dropout who designed the "service" system at the secretary of state driver's license offices.
The world now is filled with similar such useful occupiers of available time: games and videos, articles and songs. And all of them fit into a shirt pocket, summoned by a gadget the size of a chocolate bar that is more powerful than the Mac of the infamous "1984" commercial.
Tasks I used to dread because of the dead time, everything from the auto emissions test to jury duty to boarding a plane, I no longer take on with a long face and a low groan. We have entered a golden age of waiting.
In part, I will grant you, things seem especially shiny because the contrast between then and now is so great.
You remember the old days, right? You'd be at the doctor's office or the driver's license facility and, if you had forgotten to bring something of your own to read, you were in for it. Stultification. Numbness. A feeling that your bones were starting to fossilize.
At the medic's, you were probably at the mercy of whatever passion the practitioner's money had led him to. This was back when doctors made real money. So it was old copies of magazines about yachts or the German shepherd, maybe a frayed Reader's Digest if he still tried to retain a populist streak. The driver's license office might have had a TV on, but it was sure to be tuned to a soap opera or courtroom show played at too high or too low a volume.
Or you could play little mind games. Whenever I needed to pass five minutes, I would sing Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" in my head, aware of being off-key even when not making any sound.
The waiting experience of yore might best be summed up by the first line of the most famous play about the topic, Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." That line: "Nothing to be done."
Being able to wait is, I do not dispute, a valuable skill. The Stanford marshmallow experiment famously proved a correlation between children who were able to delay getting treats and success in later life.
In his 2012 book "Wait: The Art and Science of Delay," Frank Partnoy argues for waiting until the last possible moment to make a decision — if the decider has been an "active procrastinator," as some scientists call it, truly considering the merits of the case.
Technology, Partnoy contends, has sped things up, made it harder to be able to do the kind of necessary waiting he writes about.
This may be true. But at the same time, it's done wonders for more mundane waiting. And businesses are starting to seize on the possibilities: Delta Air Lines has installed public-use iPads in its waiting areas at LaGuardia Airport in New York.
Now, to be fair, certain friends recoiled at my suggestion that waiting has gotten much better. Apparently they don't like seeing a roomful of people gazing intently into personal screens. These friends — to protect their anonymity, we'll call them "Luddites" — recall a mythical past in which waits forced strangers into having sparkling conversations with one another, just as, I suppose, the lack of automobiles gave our ancestors stronger legs.
I've had plenty of conversations with strangers, people who interrupted me during an internal "Thunder Road" recitation to tell me something evident about the weather. Some of these have even turned into chats I've enjoyed. Still, you don't want that to be the only option. And the ratio of enlightenment from those talks versus what I get from my Samsung Galaxy S III is low. No offense, fellow humans.
In the depths of my smartphone, a dozen novels await in the Kindle app. (As I write this, I'm antsy to get back to "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," and not only because it needs to be done in two days for book club.)
I've got scores of podcasts, which I listen to as a sleep aid or when I'm passing the time on long solo car rides. I could read the Tribune, The New York Times or any one of several magazines.
Or, gasp, I could get some work done.
It took 28 minutes earlier this year for my doctor and his associates to get me through my annual physical, wait time, exam and blood work and all. Would it be ironic if I keeled over right now from an undetected condition? Yes, it would — as ironic, say, as the fact that buying a new smartphone is one of our culture's iconic waiting scenarios. But, still: 28 minutes for a physical!
I was thrilled, and at the same time I almost resented not having time to wait.