Documentary Review: Taming of the Queue (Josh Freed, 2017)


Taming of the Queue (not the CFHI conference series of the same name, or blog-posts of the same name) is a rather short but succinct documentary on the modern, post-WW2 idea of lining up for services, purchases, transport, and pretty much everything else in life that requires waiting amongst other people. It is a popular psychology attempt at rationalizing common issues with queues and how “researchers and social engineers” have tried to alter the queue-scape.

In 3 chapters and several cardinal rules, Josh Freed tries to generalize the Line-Up as he saw it in different countries. By trying simple tricks to perturb and agitate people, he gets them to spill their beans (or in the case of the British, just their upper-lips) and reveal some of the underlying issues that must be balanced while we wait – do I want to, do I need to, and is it acceptable?

While quite entertaining for its length, I felt that Taming only just scraped the surface in terms of a dialogue on queuing and social etiquette. It highlighted but never explored nor extracted WHY countries have different ideas regarding waiting in line. It’s up to the viewer to spell it out for themselves. Yes, densely-populated countries like India display (to our eyes) a bewildering attitude toward cutting-the-line, but that is not a function of the particular socio-economic stratum itself – it’s a collective social contract that evolved independently. We might as well have concluded from the out-set that Indians have a different culture from the British and let it be. What would be more interesting, instead of small examples like installing mirrors and automated wait-time estimates, would be devoting some screen time to asking how to change the perception of queuing in places where it’s not popular. Because how we react to queues is simply a reflection of the degree to which we prioritize ourselves over other human beings. THAT’s social engineering. That is something that we should think about more than avoiding the issue by automating our social interactions away.

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Posted on by Gary in Everything, Movies, Reviews

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