Skip to content

Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

This is the second installment of a two-part-unless-I-think-of-a-third-part series, Numbers Are Meaningless.

We learned in the first part of this series that clothing stores intentionally use incorrect sizing measurements (“numbers”) to fool customers into (a) feeling good about themselves (when they are in fact vile, ant-faced human beings) and as a result, into (b) buying pants.

Can you believe those corporations?   Those evil, faceless, free-speech-rights-apparently-having corporations!

Humans would never do something like that to one another, right?

Or maybe it’s not so much that “we would never do something like that” as it is “we would totally do something like that and we do, like, all the time.”

Example: Imagine the last time you were standing outside of a restaurant where you were scheduled — at that very moment — to meet a friend.

Your phone rings.

(You become distraught that your round of Angry Birds is interrupted.)

Your friend, who is apparently running late, assures you that they “will be there in two minutes.”  At that moment, how long do you assume it will take Maya B. McLatepants to actually show up?  My guess is that it will take somewhere between three and seventy thousand minutes.

Chances are your friend is being hopelessly optimistic (and false) for no other reason than to temporarily envelop you in an anxiety-reducing cloud of contentedness — just like the mislabeled pants people!

But here is where this example differs from those pant-sizing parasites:

1. Your friend knows deep-down that they will not be there in two minutes.
2. You also know they will not be there in two minutes.

How come when we are running late, we are completely delusional about the amount of time it will take to arrive?  Are we just horrible estimators?  Does it stem from feelings of guilt associated with making a person wait?

Or — and it depresses me that I really do think this is the case — is there simply an uncomfortable numbers-are-meaningless understanding that when we say “two,” we don’t really mean the amount of time time equivalent to one hundred twenty seconds. Why would that be true!?

“Two minutes” has evolved into a seemingly-specific but actually-quite-vague shorthand for, “Please don’t hate me it won’t be long!” The only thing we know for certain when someone tells us to wait two minutes is that we will be waiting for some amount of time at least but never exactly two minutes.

The irony, of course, is that when you are waiting for someone who is late, the least helpful thing that person can do is mislead you about the amount of time you will have to continue to stand around playing Angry Birds on your phone.  The act of being late is a simple though understandable betrayal, but verbalizing a new exact arrival time and failing to follow through in that case creates a second completely unnecessary betrayal.  The waitee (term of art!), in an attempt to comfort the increasingly losing-patience waitor (term of art 2.0!), compounds the sadness by creating a new false hope.

This type of behavior puts an enormous amount of strain over time on the relationship between the two classes of people who exist on this planet: The Punctual (“me”) and The Perpetually Late (“everyone else”).

%d bloggers like this: