“Books, like cats, do not wear watches”

-Jeanette Winterson

waiting for godot
waiting for godot

Media and waiting seem to be at odds. At least in times of so-called instantaneous communication. Reading Harold Schweizer’s book ‘On Waiting’ reminds me just how marginal or left out the topic of waiting is from media studies. And this is quite remarkable as waiting when one thinks about it constitutes an integral part of the phenomenology of everyday life. Waiting is not only an experience everyone shares, from waiting for the bus, in a queue or for the kettle to boil, but also an experience which affects are also shared by most people. Waiting is not something people tend to like. But how does waiting relate to new media technologies? What do faster and instant media do to waiting?  And how does waiting relate to time, boredom and attention in today’s digital economies?

As Schweizer remarks, “in waiting, time is slow”. Are we so obsessed with instantaneous media because we hate waiting? We get irritated and anxious when we have to wait on the phone line, we “expect” people to respond fast when we send a text message and responding to email should be done within the next day or so.

Living in a society that accentuates immediacy, waiting becomes the only temporal regime that we don’t desire. Everybody wants more time, with one exception, waiting – which means having time without wanting it. One definition of immediacy then, can be located in the exclusion of waiting.

Looking at media and waiting it becomes apparent how media are used to defer from waiting, that is, from experiencing a certain temporality of stretched out or prolonged time. Whenever we have to wait or have to “fill” time, media are used to assist this overcoming of “unwanted” time. Particular places, like the waiting rooms at the doctor’s office, are even designated for the particular experience of waiting. The paradox however is that even “waiting rooms” attempt at abolishing and emptying out the experience of waiting, of which the magazines are emblematic.

Time is money; it can be measured and valued. So too can waiting. Some things are deemed “worth waiting for”. Schweizer uses Penelope’s waiting for Odysseus as a case in point here. Penelope had to wait 20 years for her husband’s return, during which time she had to reject an extent of marriage proposals. Penelope’s faithfulness is a virtue manifested in the duration of waiting. But most of us don’t have to wait nearly this long, nor do I suspect we most of us would have the patience to do so today. Capitalist society has long since taught us there is little worth waiting for; if you desire it, why wait the slogans will have it. Indeed, what is worth waiting for? And why is some waiting worth it while most waiting is considered a waist of time? In times of instant communication and gratification, the question of waiting as an everyday temporal experience shouldn’t be neglected.

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