April 09, 2012

Waiting and Social Interaction

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

In our fast-paced society, waiting is not something that people like to do. For people who rely on public transportation, waiting is built into everyday life. But if your daily routine doesn’t involve a lot of waiting, it takes you away from the rhythm of life.

Put in a situation where you have to wait, maybe you don’t mind it for a bit. You might like a few quiet moments to yourself. Maybe you meditate while you wait. Perhaps you get reflective and write a poem. But there’s so much to entertain us while we wait, like listening to music, tweeting, or exploring for a new app. I wonder if anyone truly likes to be alone with their own thoughts for an extended period of time.

Recently, I had an interesting experience with waiting. I waited, and waited, and waited some more at a hospital with my wife on a day when our son had surgery. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but notice what people were doing while they waited. And it occurred to me that waiting involves a lot of social interaction.

I had the company of my wife, so naturally we talked a lot. But we also interacted with other parents. All of us were waiting for our children to have some type of surgery, so that led to talk about what procedure our children needed. There were also compliments passed back and forth about the cuteness of each other’s kids. Along with a nod or a smile, it’s another way to acknowledge other parents. Also, let’s be honest, you always feel good when someone says your kid is cute. When a person says something nice about your kid, it validates a part of you.

Although most people waited in pairs, a few parents had no one with them. One mother waited next to me while her son was in surgery. She called someone and angrily said “He just had surgery! I can’t leave here to come and get you!” I acted as if I hadn’t overheard her brief call. We ended up saying a few things to each other—nothing special—which reminded me that everyday life involves a lot of mundane interactions.

I looked around the room, and observed that everyone was engaged with something—one man was playing with a Nintendo DS, several people were watching television, others were eating, and I was reading a newspaper (I can’t believe they still make newspapers). It stood out to me that mostly everyone’s hands were occupied: mainly by cell phones, of course, but also with items like coffee cups. What would we do with our hands if cell phones and coffee cups were banned?

Waiting with others helped the day go faster. Suddenly, we were notified that our son’s surgery was completed. Only one parent was allowed to visit while he was in recovery. My wife hurried off to see him, so I was left alone, but only for a moment. I sent text messages to my parents and in-laws to tell them surgery went well. Am I really texting to let them know their grandson is okay? That was more or less my thought as I fired off the texts. But when I am surrounded by people, I don’t like to publicly air a phone conversation. With time on my hands, I continued looking around, making observations. That’s when the idea for this imageblog post struck me, so I searched the waiting room for a pen. I couldn’t find one, so I used the notepad tool in my cell phone to type a few thoughts.

Finally, I was allowed to see my son. The waiting was over. It always feels good when you don’t have to wait any longer. As pictured, I held him close in a rocking  chair. The picture isn’t the best quality, but, after all, he was what I was waiting for. After a nurse and physician’s assistant checked him over, we were allowed to go. So we left the hospital, and life went back to normal. Life returned to its busy and hectic state.

As I worked on this blog, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ song “The Waiting” played in my head. The song speaks to a different kind of waiting than what I write about here, but the line “the waiting is the hardest part” applies to many forms of waiting. It’s true, waiting is really hard to do. But being with other people makes the waiting a little easier.

All of this is meant to say: even waiting is social.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Waiting and Social Interaction:


Interesting article! Waiting needs patience and patience is bubble-wrapped by people around us.

Very interesting article. Its amazing how reliable we are on cell ohones and other gadgets to help us wait on things. Who knows what the world would be like with out these object to help keep us occupied.

I found this blog completely intriguing. It really made me think about the way I analyze the world around us. It's crazy to think about how much social interaction really does influence our behaviors. Such as not making an important phone call to others due to surrounding people. That proves that our rights and obligations as citizens keep us in check.

I have also noticed this trend of dependencies on others when you're alone. I feel as if it is getting progressively worse with the increase of technologies. Peoples these days are never by themselves and can never be content with just themselves.

You're not only in noting waiting is social: Javier Auyero's new Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina may be of interest (Duke, 2012).

From Amazon:

Patients of the State is a sociological account of the extended waiting that poor people seeking state social and administrative services must endure. It is based on ethnographic research in the waiting area of the main welfare office in Buenos Aires, in the line leading into the Argentine registration office where legal aliens apply for identification cards, and among people who live in a polluted shantytown on the capital’s outskirts, while waiting to be allocated better housing. Scrutinizing the mundane interactions between the poor and the state, as well as underprivileged people’s confusion and uncertainty about the administrative processes that affect them, Javier Auyero argues that while waiting, the poor learn the opposite of citizenship. They learn to be patients of the state. They absorb the message that they should be patient and keep waiting, because there is nothing else that they can do. Drawing attention to a significant everyday dynamic that has received little scholarly attention until now, Auyero considers not only how the poor experience these lengthy waits but also how making poor people wait works as a strategy of state control.

As a side note, it's interesting that technology has transformed the waiting of those who can afford it (never am I left alone to be bored while waiting or share in the camaraderie of waiting, thanks to that nifty iPhone).

Waiting is a thing most human"s do not enjoy doing. And most people will find different ways to pass their time. In certain areas such as low poverty areas,for instance the food stamp office. People have to wait all day sometimes to recieve government benefits. This is a way to almost throw it in the face of the people who need it. By sayin "If your going to get this free service, we"re going to make you not want to come back."

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for everydaysociologyblog.com please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

Learn More

Terrible Magnificent Sociology

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More


Learn More

« The Trayvon Martin Shooting: Examples of Institutional and Interpersonal Racism? | Main | When is a Social Problem no Longer a Social Problem? »