...a potent blend of Miss Manners and Batman

Friday, September 21, 2007

Racing Grannies

Or, Collective Waiting, Revisited

An unusual need arose recently for Voice of Society Man in the world of unicycle racing, but fret not, the situation described has tendrils that reach into many aspects of our daily life.

This past summer at the annual unicycle convention (yes, there is such a thing), a woman in her 50s took 25 minutes to complete the mile race, 15 minutes longer than her next slowest competitor. 300 of us had to wait for her to finish. As a result, our day at the track finished 15 minutes later than it could have. Should the race director have put an end to our misery by stopping the race? Voice of Society Man knew there could be only one answer, a resounding "Duh."

In a note I wrote to a committee that considers these issues (yes, there is such a thing), I explained that it comes down to math. Granny's 15 extra minutes of racing took place while the rest of us could have been doing more enjoyable things, like swimming in the hotel pool, chatting with other parents, or twiddling our own personal thumbs. Now factor in that there were 300 people waiting for her to finish. 300 people x 15 minutes = 4500 human minutes. That is to say, Granny's race cost a collective 75 hours of human time. Clearly her pride-of-accomplishment was worth something, but most people would agree that this was selfish or unthinking behavior on Granny's part.

Admittedly, the math doesn't seem to hold up under close scrutiny. Had there only been 4 people waiting for her to finish, she'd still be in the wrong for making them wait, even tho that's only 60 minutes of wasted human time. But had she only taken one extra minute (causing 300 minutes of wasted life), no one would have noticed. In fact there would be no real (or kind) way to get back that one minute, and any attempt to do so would have caused an outrage. At what point does the racer become a Time Waster? Perhaps this quandary requires further thought. Is there a cut-off, mathematical or otherwise, for Time Wasting?

Even Voice of Society Man cannot tell you where this line is drawn, but its pretty clear that somebody should have pushed Granny off that unicycle.

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About Me

My pesky alter ego who will set you right if you break one of the unwritten rules of getting along