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the long lines of information

This website gives an interesting insight into the large chunk of our lives we devote to waiting for things:

The article comments on the factors such as speed, time ratios and fairness that play a large role in how we feel while waiting in line and the choices we make in response to such situations.  People seek the fastest way to reach their destination, yet, as the article points our, that is not always a measurement of speed, but a ration of time spent waiting to time spent not waiting.  In airports people seem to mind waiting at baggage claim much more if they spent less time walking there from the gate.  This is because the time spent waiting is larger in comparison to the time spent walking.  To decrease complaints, the airport merely increased the time it took patrons to walk to their gate, thus decreasing the ratio.

Of the many tricks and ploys organizations use to manipulate customers, especially those waiting in long lines, no one is as good as Disney.  In Disney theme parks, the lines themselves are amusing; videos playing, background music, fans, misters, props and more.  Many rides lead you through houses, gardens or parks that give you a background to the ride itself.  The entire experience becomes part of the story.

Why does Disney go to so much effort?  Information cascade models can be used as an explanation.  For people waiting in line, one primary tool at their disposal for estimating wait time is the number of people ahead of them.  Each consecutive person in line, therefore, receives a ‘signal’ which is the number of people they see ahead of them.  A low signal, indicating a bad situation and a long wait, would coincide with seeing a lot of people ahead of oneself.  Furthermore, if a person sees another person ahead of them give up and leave the line, they will be more likely to do so trusting the fact that perhaps this person knew something more about wait time.  On the other hand, by seeing those ahead of you remain in place, one often trusts that perhaps they know the true wait time.

In this way, information cascades play an important role in lines.  People follow and respond to the decisions of those in front of them.  Disney uses a very simple tool to slow down and disrupt this potentially problematic situation: the lines are designed to curve around so that it is difficult and/or impossible to see people ahead of you.  This disrupts the flow of visual information down the line.  Since you don’t know how many people are ahead of you, and you don’t know whether those people are staying or going, the risk that you will leave based upon someone else’s actions decreases.

In the end, if all goes as planned, the situation is a win-win.  Disney collects large amounts of your hard-earned money, and you get to spend 4 minutes zooming through the air.


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November 2012