Thursday, May 6, 2021

Do smartphones make queuing bearable?

“Next… next… next…” A teller shouts from a cubicle at one of the commercial banks in Gaborone. She had long finished assisting one of the customers and despite more than a dozen waiting in line nobody had stepped forward for assistance. That is until the fourth guy on the queue attempts to jump the line and step forward when the first customer on the line finally lifted her eyes from her mobile phone and remembered she was actually next.

She had been so busy on her smartphone the queue could not have gone faster. They say a smartphone is like a microwave oven. You do not think you need one until you get one. That probably explains why Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone still maintains a firm grip on his old Nokia (sedilame).

Smartphones have only been introduced to Botswana for the first time just over a decade ago which means most of us have actually lived a better part of our lives without one. But since their introduction it has been close to impossible to imagine how we ever got by without them.
Getting caught up in a queue without a welcome distraction can be a harrowing experience and it is one of the many occasions when a smartphone has come in handy. We all have agonising memories of the lengthy periods we have spent queueing up at banks, supermarkets, clinics/hospitals, government departments, and other public institutions. Granted, before smart phones a handful of people might have come up with other innovative ways to ease the stress.

Reading books was one of them. I have tried reading a book while queueing up but the problem is with books; you require a certain degree of concentration or otherwise you run the risk of having to go over sentences over and again in order for whatever you are reading to register in your mind. Or at times you come close to finishing the book long before your turn for assistance and you are forced to ration sentences in between moments until it is your turn, which on its own only worsens your frustrations.

And on top of that carrying around something that cannot fit in your pocket is also an unwanted distraction. When we were introduced to the Walkman in the early nineties it became another alternative but who wanted to go around with bag full of cassette tapes? And then God sent us a tech angel in the form of Steve Jobs who introduced to us the portable i-pod and we could load thousands of songs to keep us company and ease the boredom. But then again that wasn’t enough.

You can only listen to so much music before your ears can’t take it anymore. And then God said ‘let there be Mark Zuckerberg’ and we were all introduced to the world of social media. Now, with a smart phone you have all in one; the book, the Walkman, cassette tapes, social media, video games, and many more. The stress of queueing up for hours has been decimated. Although somehow we got through it now, save for a few ‘Mokones’, that we have lived in the smartphone world we cannot imagine going back. “My phone comes in handy when I’m queueing up because I get so caught up on facebook I hardly notice when the queue is moving forward,” says Joseph Tumagole. Bomo Machinya also believes having a smart phone has made queueing easier for him.

“When you are lining up for a service it is always better to have a distraction to help you ease through the queue without noticing the delays,” Machinya says. “Thanks to my phone the queue always seems to move faster.” Public transport commuters also seem to have taken to their smartphones to help ease through the slow crawl of the rush hour traffic. However you look at it, people seem to be less cranky about delays in service because they have a welcome distraction in the form of a smartphone and social media.

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