Monday, September 19, 2005

The End of Time

Lately I've noticed that very few people seem capable of estimating time in any kind of sensible way.

On the ferry going to NL, I asked at the information desk how long it takes to unload the cars once the boat had docked. He said it would take a while.

A while.

In other words his only response was that the process was not instant. Now, of course, there are factors and variations. I get that. But what would be wrong with saying, "well it can vary, but it usually ranges between half an hour and an hour" or something like that?

Today I asked someone at the university how long changes to an important document would take and he said, "a good while," apparently under the delusion that his response in any way answered my question. Somewhat peevishly, I said, "tell me in hours or days" and it took a while for him to understand what I talking about.

I can't help but wonder if this is part of a general movement away from numeracy in our culture. When I last got my hair cut, I asked for it cut down to three quarters of an inch. The woman didn't have that size on her trimmer so I said a half inch was OK but no shorter. Then she suggested three eighths, apparently thinking that three eighths was closer to three quarters because they both had threes in them.

Are we really to the point that ordinary people are incapable of estimating using numbers and understanding basic fractions? On the way back from NL, I asked someone else how long it would take to get off the ferry and he said, "it depends."

Ah. I never would have imagined it depended on anything.

By the way, the first time took five minutes, the second fifteen. But presumably it might have taken days, since it could be quite a while...depending.

3 comments:

Patrick Marsh said...

I was going to respond with something funny, but I realized it would take a while.

K said...

Longer than you think Pat.

Patrick Marsh said...

Hey.


Cool out. Daddy.