Of Tea Kettles and Traffic Lights
Reading Stefan Klein’s hugely entertaining and informative Time: A User’s Guide yesterday, I came across this traffic-related tidbit:
“Where do you have a longer wait: At a red light, when you’ve just missed the green — or in your kitchen, waiting for an electric kettle to boil water for a cup of tea? If you think that boiling water takes more time, you’re mistaken: both require an average of ninety seconds.”
This comparison intrigued me for several reasons. The first is that one rarely sees “traffic time” compared to other moments of time from everyday life. What other mundane acts of life could theoretically be performed in the time stuck at the lights?
The second is that very fact that we wouldn’t think of the time we spend at a light as being equal to waiting for tea; this in itself reminded me of studies I had seen in which people underestimated the amount of time it would take to drive somewhere, and overestimated the amount of time it would take by another mode. Traffic is a very time-skewing activity in general. When we’re moving along at a good clip, we tend not to notice any time signals (except for “on the hour” announcements on radio and the like); when we’re stuck in heavy traffic, aware of every vehicle passing us, we’re more aware to minor moments of progress and change and thus, as Klein argues, these trivial things add up to “a perceived time that seems much longer than what our watches tell us.” Which is why watched kettles, of course, take longer to boil.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 7:01 am and is filed under Etc., Traffic Signals, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.