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Wang 1 Jeffrey Wang 05 OCT 2013 Ethnography Impatience as a Reflection of Economic System and Standing Nobody enjoys waiting.

The circumstances are irrelevanta delay before a joyful surprise inevitably becomes impatient anticipation; a hold on an unwanted punishment inevitably becomes fearful apprehension. Waiting merely intensifies our desire for the outcome, good or bad; as the sense of anticipation builds, the waiting individual becomes fixated on what he or she is expecting, and as my observations of commuters at Los Angeless Union Station have shown this may lead him or her to ignore surrounding events and even become competitively aggressive in trying to accelerate the arrival of the awaited occurrence. This goal-oriented mindset that waiting induces ultimately allows it to be used as a representation for the values (and their effects) of the capitalistic system that drives our lives. To demonstrate this connection is what I set out to do in this essay. Waiting is, in a number of ways, the bane of Americas fast-paced society. It is something we seek always to minimise, to ignore, to negate in any way possible. Yet why do we dislike waiting with such intensity? It will not do to say, by way of explanation, merely that we are an impatient society; while not incorrect, it is about as superficial and unhelpful as stating that one enjoys a certain type of music because of the way it sounds. One is hardly expected to judge music by the way it tastes. Instead, the actions of individuals waiting for a train and the comparisons that may be made between these specific actions and the broader trends of a capitalist society suggest that our negative attitude towards delay is fuelled and influenced by our existence in a nation driven by capitalism.

Wang 2 First, of course, the behaviour itself. I boarded a Metro Expo Line train at 5:26 a.m., intending to observe the movements of the rush of people commuting to work, and immediately noticed a tendency that was at once obvious and perfectly unnoticeable; in fact, what made it so apparentthe fact that nearly everyone did itwas simultaneously the same reason for its utter normality: eye contact was religiously and automatically avoided. As they sat and waitedwhether at the Metro station, on board the train, or in the waiting room of Union Station, where I ultimately made most of my observations, passengers typically did an excellent job of scrupulously minding their own business. Few looked at the people around them, and almost none attempted to strike up a conversation with the person next to whom they were sitting, with the exception of persons who were already acquainted with each other. Even when I took a break in order to buy breakfast at the stations Starbucks, I noticed that literally none of the customers intentionally (that is, aside from reactionary communication, such as a customary sorry after bumping into someone) interacted with each other. Instead, they either stared in a neutral direction (such as the floor or some point outside the windowin other words, any direction not conspicuously occupied by a human being) or occupied themselves with a distraction (such as a newspaper or phone). This behaviour proved near-universal; in the waiting room, as well as in the stations lobby and the Metro Gold Line platform, I found people reading, texting, watching other trains, even simply standing alone staring blankly into spaceanything but interacting with the people around them. At times this self-absorption escalated into more serious forms, especially on the train platform. On several occasions I watched a commuter make a dash for the train even though the man (or woman) had watched it pull in mere milliseconds earlier and

Wang 3 must have known in some corner of his or her mind that it was hardly in danger of leaving anytime soonrisking bodily injury and virtually unavoidable collisions with others, just for the satisfaction of boarding a train ahead of the crowd. Some individuals also crowded the doors of the train, standing blatantly past the yellow line and impeding those trying to exit as they tried to push their way on board. Such behaviour is clearly indicative of a focus on whatever lies after the wait, whether it be boarding a train home or obtaining a piping hot coffee. This goal-oriented mindset is quite evident in the ways in which commuters attempt to ignoreor, failing that, to reducethe delay. The distractions used are just thatdiversions that take [the] mind off the wait, as one man I spoke to on the Gold Line platform put it. By switching the focus away from the boredom of waiting, phones, books, and distant objects allow them to stop tormenting themselves with anticipationto stop waiting and instead begin passing the time so that what they wait for will appear to have arrived sooner than expected. This impatience is demonstrated also in the lack of communication; observing the rush of people moving through Union Station, one gets a distinct impression that their avoidance of contact is a direct result of their hurry to reach their destinationthey have no time, and no need, to have any interaction because it may potentially lengthen their wait and furthermore will likely be fleetingly short and therefore hold little social value. And the competition to board the train needs little explanationif anything, it exemplifies a selfish, near-single-minded focus on achieving whatever goal one is waiting for. How does this impatient behaviour find its roots in capitalism? To more clearly showcase this connection, it may be beneficial to first examine its association to a more

Wang 4 intermediate, relatable concept: materialism. American society today is one predicated on consumerism, an economic perspective that has arguably led to increased expectations of instant gratification; the expectation itself is hardly new, but as we buy moreand as the processes of purchasing become more streamlinedwe expect more, and our patience wears ever thinner as our tolerance for waiting for what we want decreases. This reflects quite accurately the mind of the American commuteras technology and public transport improve (as they have; the Gold Line opened relatively recently in 2003, and further expansions have been planned), the commuter expects a simpler, faster commute and becomes increasingly less willing to wait for the train. If the commuter must wait, he or she is liable to take illogical or unreasonable competitive actionsuch as running or pushingin order to minimise the delay and attain the objective, a behaviour analogous to the must-buy attitude that has become ever more prevalent in American society and has led consumers to fight to purchase things they neither need nor can afford. This self-centred attitude, in turn, is due in part to the growing pervasiveness and persuasiveness of advertising efforts that encourage consumers to spend; in her essay on Fijian water, Kaplan discusses the effects of advertising, which improbably convinces buyers of Fiji bottled water that they are like the indigene, [able] to restore health like an imagined indigene (Kaplan 701). Such advertising is also implicated in the lack of social interaction among commuters; Kaplan also notes that Fiji Waters labelling changed in 2006 to emphasise that it was untouched by man, symbolising the removal of the human element from the consideration of consumers as they become focussed more on the product that on the people who produce it, just as commuters become focussed more on their destination than on the people around them. As psychologist

Wang 5 Madeline Levine notes, the consumer culture has caused a shift away from values of community, spirituality, and integrity, and toward competition, materialism and disconnection. With its immediate influences in materialism/consumerism established, it is now possible to make the connection between American societys attitude towards waiting and the same societys capitalist system. Capitalism is effectively based upon the accumulation of wealth; Marx himself acknowledged it as an immense accumulation of commodities (Marx 302-303). It is, arguably, this drive to accumulate wealth that has led corporations to employ the aforementioned marketing and advertisement tactics that have promoted consumer spending and fostered what both Marx and Kaplan termed commodity fetishisationan overwhelming focus on the product and what it promises to deliver rather than on the human interaction that gives it its value. This consumer spending and product focus, in turn, have led to impatience arising out of a necessity for instant-gratification, as well as a loss of social interaction. Marx termed a commodity as some thing that by its properties satisfies human wants (303); in Americas capitalistic society, individuals are in large part freely allowed to procure these objects, inevitably leading to an expectation ofand a fixation onthe feeling of satisfaction. Ultimately, therefore, the intolerant behaviour of American commuters with respect to waiting for their trains is heavily effected by the capitalistic society by which their lives are driven. There is, of course, a gaping hole in this argument. Who is to say that capitalism is responsible for American impatience, and that it is not simply a characteristic of the human mind that it desires satisfaction with decreasing tolerance for delay? Will not a Communist at a train station become irritated if his or her train is delayed? In response, I

Wang 6 have two points to make. Firstly, my purpose is not to contend that capitalism is the sole reason for American train-waiting behaviour; rather, I seek to point out that the multiple connections between this specific behaviour and the broader influences of capitalism suggest that the two are linkednamely, that capitalism affects our perception of having to wait, and as a result our impatience is intensified relative to that of, say, a Communist. Secondly, in the absence of a Communist to observe in the environment of Union Station, I ask that you consider the case of the homeless. Los Angeles reportedly has the highest concentration of homeless citizens within its city borders, and a good number spend the night at Union Station, making it nigh impossible not to notice themespecially considering that I arrived there before many of them had awoken. Though perhaps an extreme example, it is nonetheless true that these unfortunate members of society are not bound by the capitalism around them. They have human wants, just as the rest of American society does; they are capable of losing their patience if required to wait too long, just as the rest of American society does. What sets them apart is that due to fiscal difficulties they are unable to act on these influences, thus rendering them incapable of participating in the capitalist economy and freeing them from the influences thereof. The difference is quite noticeable. These men and women show little objection to waiting, simply because they have no reason to act otherwise. A customer at Starbucks may become irritated if the cashier takes too long to return his change; a commuter on a train platform may become annoyed if her train is delayed; but take unnecessarily long in trying to extricate your wallet from your pants in order to check for some spare change (as I did, while sitting in the waiting room), and the homeless individual before you will remain unfazed. It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that he desired the money I offered

Wang 7 him, but the very fact that he was unable to spend enough to contribute meaningfully to the capitalist economy meant that he subsequently had no overriding goal to achieveno commodity to purchaseand thus he held an extremely tolerant attitude towards waiting. Ultimately, then, an individuals attitude toward waiting must be dependent on that individuals spending ability, and since Americas capitalist system seeks to develop and encourage consumer spending, American society as a whole is comparatively less patient. Observations of behaviour in Los Angeless Union Station show that a number of characteristics of the American commuters attitude towards waiting are markedly similar to the effects of a capitalistic economytoo similar to be ignored. Upon closer examination, each of the main aspects of this attitude can be traced back through consumerism/materialism to its roots in capitalism; further comparison and contrasting with the behaviour of Union Stations homeless, as a non-capitalist group, prove that the level of irritation an individual experiences when forced to wait for something is directly influenced by that individuals ability to spend. As a capitalist nation, then, the American commuter is understandably in a constant state of haste.

Wang 8 Works Cited Kaplan, Martha. Fijian Water in Fiji and New York: Local Policies and a Global Commodity. Cultural Anthropology. November 2007: 22 (4). Pp. 685-706. Marx, Karl. Excerpts from Capital in the Marx-Engels Reader, edited by R. Tucker Norton and Company, 1971, pp. 302-308, 319-324.