Marking time


Each context has some means of informally measuring the passage of time – specifically, time individuals spent gathered in/around a place. In some cases it may be as simple as the density of cigarettes in a public ashtray (or butts on the ground). In others, and human density over time is expressed in more localized norms, such as the collection of sunflower seeds in front of a bus stop bench, or on the floor of a train. Through these observations one may understand how time is conventionally passed, which sites are preferred for congregating, and the norms around behaviors of waiting (Do both men and women chew sunflower seeds? Do more cigarette butts end up on the ground, or in a receptacle? Are newspapers present? If so, are they purchased from nearby vendors, or brought with customers? Does waiting behavior change between a bus stop, and a train station? Does that behavior carry over to onboard the mode of transportation? etc., ad infinitum). Naturally, gauging passed time using such methods is more of an art than a science, with good research needing an equal balance of each.


In Myanmar, the density and distribution of betelnut spit remains a consistently accurate way of picking out where people congregate to wait. At bus stops, tea shops, and out front of government offices, the pavement is stained permanently red, an homage to past crowds, gathered and dispersed thousands of times over the years.


Do your local practices of passing time leave such residual “exhaust”? How will the increasing proliferation of addictive, time-killing cellphone games impact (read: eliminate) the “traceability” of extant waiting behaviors? Similarly, as this Guardian piece does, consider how everyday activities (such as waiting) will be impacted by technology designed to track us, recommend to us, and otherwise de-spontaneous-ize all contexts.

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