Jason Farman, Professor and Director of the Design Cultures & Creativity Program at University of Maryland, College Park, has written extensively on the concept of ‘waiting’, including in his Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World (2018). He has also reflected on our global wait in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can enjoy the longer essay yourself, but here is its Quick-Read.
Professor Farman presents a set of “five practices” to reap what he calls “the benefits of waiting”:
1. Understand the big-picture reason behind your wait
Not all waiting is in vain. If we analyse why we’re forced to wait, it may turn out we’ll be better off later on because of this very wait here and now: e.g. we could be delaying a ready but mediocre result for a more rewarding outcome, or exercising the virtue of patience which is in and of itself desirable; on the contrary, there are pernicious kinds of wait which we should adequately react against. Either way, in order for this understanding to materialise, one needs “to move past our irritation at being forced to wait.”
2. Seize the present moment whilst you wait and actively (re)imagine your post-wait situation
We often daydream whilst we wait. Farman believes we should capitalise on this default mode, because the free, uninterrupted time created by these windows of waiting (preferably in silence*) afford us an opportune time to imagine and plan what we expect our life to look like once the wait is over.
3. Make your wait time fruitful by doing open-ended, non-linear thinking
Mechanical productivity is what we are usually asked to grind away for in our 9-to-5 routines. “Wait times, instead, are necessary for us to find creative solutions to complex problems,” Farman writes. “Waiting, and the daydreaming and boredom that accompany it, unlocks the ‘default mode network’ of the brain. This is sometimes called the ‘imagination network’ and links us with creative approaches and solutions that we couldn’t have found if we sought them out; they only arrive when our thoughts are in a moment of pause.” So take advantage of your next wait time to do some creative work, e.g. through the doodlingtechnique.
4. Step out of the myopic individualistic mindset and re-envision your wait as an investment in society
Farman explains: “If my time is bound with yours, it benefits me to see you use your time well.” When you wait in a queue, it is for all those people in front of you; if we are forgoing to engage in our favourite social activities whilst waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, each of us is actively doing their part for the collective good.
5. Do not just put up with unjust wait
“Waiting in line for a Disneyland ride bears no resemblance to waiting for justice for war crimes.” If the cause for one’s waiting does not warrant patience, our responsibility towards ourselves and others takes precedence. “Some waiting should anger us, especially as we build radical empathy with others who are forced to wait in ways that disempower them,” says Farman. “When my time is deeply entwined with your time, I should be angered at the uneven ways that it is distributed.” Even when you see someone else’s time is being wasted, speak up.
*Personal Coda: most of us behave as if we are afraid of being left to ourselves, especially in silence without something external to occupy our mind. For example, it seems so many of us cannot easily decouple ourselves from our earphones. But the kind of positive reimagining Farman conjures up can best be carried out in quiet introspection free of such distractions.