Part 1 - The Return of the Queue
There is an often told story about a new high rise office built in the 1950’s:
The tenants of the new skyscraper complained of an excessively long wait for the elevator when people arrived in the morning, took their lunch break, and left at night.
From a logistics point of view there was little the building managers could do without interfering in the business of their tenants.
One employee noted that people were probably just bored and recommended installing floor-to-ceiling mirrors near the elevators, so people could look at themselves and each other while waiting. This was done, and complaints dropped to nearly zero.
This story offers an insight into one of the most common, and commonly hated, things we used to do: waiting in line. It suggests that there are hidden and surprising factors that affect how we experience lines. In the case of elevators, it wasn't the wait that mattered. It was that we got bored while waiting.
On to the telephone:
Early research for phone companies analysed the number of phone lines and operators the central switchboard needed to keep customers from waiting too long. They used probability and statistics to model how bottlenecks form as customers call in, and how quickly a service must be provided to keep queues moving.
Early on these studies were focused solely on efficiency — how to serve as many customers as possible. Years later researchers began to realize that there were subtler factors influencing people's experience of waiting in line, including ideas of fairness, mismanaged expectations, and the strange and inaccurate way that most people perceive both time and pain.
Interestingly, it turns out that what you hate most about lines probably isn't the length of the wait after all.