Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Scientists Confirm Your Line Always Slowest

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If successful, further research may result in having this sign tattooed to the back of your neck.

If successful, further research may result in having this sign tattooed to the back of your neck.

Cambridge, Massachusetts (AP) – A groundbreaking statistical study by MIT researchers has revealed what most people have long suspected: the supermarket, government office or toll booth queue that currently contains you will invariably be the slowest of the available lines.

The researchers observed various lines over the course of six months, recording data from supermarkets, motor vehicle bureaus, bridge and road toll lanes, post offices, public transportation stations, fast food purveyors, office supply superstores and assorted other service or retail venues. They found a 99.8% correlation between your choice of line and the slowest-moving line, well within the statistical margin of error.

The few cases in which line choice and slowness did not seem to correlate involved your shopping with a companion, when each of you took up position in separate lines, intending to join the other in the line that turned out to be quicker. In a quirk of the analysis algorithm, a tie for the slowest line, which inevitably resulted in such cases, was not recognized as a bona fide “slowest” line. Functionally, however, you ended up being served by the slowest possible line.

The researchers noted a number cases in which you switched lines even when you were alone, but the slowness kept pace. This was documented most frequently on the approach to toll booths and supermarket checkout lanes, but occurred almost as often when your car was stuck in highway traffic. Changing lanes to exploit the moving traffic in the next lane over invariably resulted in the next lane stopping, while the lane you left began moving.

“It’s an extraordinary bit of science, even though it seems to tell us something we all ‘knew’ before,” said Stu Pidd, a post-doctoral research fellow at MIT who participated in the field research. “But everything has to be tested. The same thing applied to your always having your eyes closed when the camera took a picture,” he said, referring to an earlier study that quantified how often you would ruin photographs by the simple act of timing your blinks badly (also 99.8%). In that study, everyone knew you always ruined pictures, but the scientific method provided the academic rigor.

The newest discovery opens a variety of possibilities for further research and development efficiency procedures. A proper algorithm, says Pidd, might utilize your presence to increase the efficiency of every other line in the facility. If you could be confined to a line containing only you, every other customer could be served promptly, and traffic jams would be resolved within minutes. Already, many supermarkets attempt to attract you to the slowest lane by labeling it “express,” but with mixed success.

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Written by Thag

March 4, 2013 at 9:36 pm

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