Image: A group of people wait in line, it’s raining. Image via Lars Plougmann, CC BY-SA 2.0.

At this very moment, as you read this, you are waiting on something. We all are waiting on something, always. As anthropologist Ghassan Hage wrote, we wait for “an ice cream and for final judgment.” The coronavirus pandemic has illuminated waiting. We waited to hear guidelines from government and health officials. We waited for our stimulus checks. And, now, we wait for our turn to get a vaccination.

A difficult part of waiting is that we often do not know how long we will wait. For example, how long will we wait for a coronavirus vaccine? Research has found the importance of temporal specificity, meaning the presence or absence of a deadline as an assurance of action. A specific timeframe, telling a person when the waiting will end, gives “some degree of control over the situation, through knowledge” (Rotter, 2016).
Time is an irreplaceable and finite resource. Waiting can feel like a waste of time. Researchers have observed that, thanks to technology, waiting can be “more than empty time” (Sebald, 2020). Digital media and “speed of connectivity is the antipode to waiting” (Wexler, 2015). Digital connection makes waiting more tolerable.
While waiting is universal, the experience of waiting is not the same for everyone–and, in fact, waiting is rife with inequalities. Sociologist Barry Schwartz perhaps has done the most to illustrate these inequalities, writing “the distribution of waiting time coincides with the distribution of power” (1974). Pierre Bourdieu (2000) writes that “making people wait” – or “delaying without destroying hope” and “adjourning without totally disappointing” – are primary elements of domination. Ultimately, those who have the power to make others wait demonstrate that their time is more valuable than someone else’s time.