Why we can't stand slow walkers

Our tolerance for slowpokes has declined over the past few decades.

If you've ever worked or lived in a major city, you've likely felt the heated anger of sidewalk rage. Chelsea Wald of Nautilus knows the feeling all too well, being from both New York City and Vienna. She's written an insightful article on why we begin fuming the minute our pace is interrupted by someone's leisurely stroll.

For instance, if you've ever walked the streets of Venice, the locals don't have the luxury of passing someone by running out into the street — their roadways are waterways. Any tourist who has been to the floating city on the Adriatic Sea has likely heard the word “permesso" said behind them through gritted teeth — that's the locals' nice way of saying, “May I pass, please?"

The pace of our cities has increased and with it our tolerance for slowpokes. Psychologist Robert Levine sent his students around the world in the early 1990s to record the pace at which people walked in major cities. They would time how fast people would walk a distance of 60 feet. In New York City, for instance, people covered that distance in a matter of 14 seconds. But in our new millennium, Richard Wiseman found that the pace has increased by 10 percent.

This “gotta get there now" attitude has gone beyond the streets, though, and so has associated rage. The Oatmeal, an online comic, illustrated the concept best when it compared the different states of mind when you have slow internet versus no internet. One induces a rage-fueled sting of swears that would make your grandmother blush and the other we take in stride as a minor annoyance.

James Moore, a neuroscientist at Goldsmiths, University of London explains why we react this way:

"The link between time and emotion is a complex one. A lot is dependent on expectation — if we expect something to take time, then we can accept it. Frustration is often a consequence of expectations being violated."

Wald makes a fair case, saying our fast-paced society has spoiled us. The way we get our information and food has warped our sense of time. The accessibility of getting what we want/need and getting it now is a part of our daily lives.

Our internal clock is warped. It's responsible for telling us when we've waited too long for something. It once served an evolutionary purpose — leftovers from our primate past — telling us when we've spent too much time on an unproductive task, letting us know when to “abandon the hunt" as it were.

Internet lexicon, such as TL;DR (too long; didn't read) speaks to our growing impatience. Nicholas Carr from The Atlantic covered his own struggle to invest his attention into long-form narratives:

"Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."

There may have been some people who clicked on this article and saw that it was over four paragraphs and decided to move on. So, how do we fix our impatience?

Wald suggests an exercise in mindfulness.

To read more on her deep dive into the psychology of our internal clocks, check out her article on Nautilus.

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