American exceptionalism includes hating to queue. Silicon Valley has been happy to help out.
What is the heart of American exceptionalism? Is it Alexis de Tocqueville's "they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom"? How about Abraham Lincoln's "conceived in liberty"? Or Ronald Reagan's spirit of rugged individualism? Meh. Those are answers for a high-school civics exam. It's actually much simpler: Americans will put up with just about anything—except for waiting in line.
It's no coincidence that nearly every important technology development of the past 20 years also happens to be a line-killer. Print-at-home boarding passes, automatic hotel checkout, bar code scanners. ATMs to avoid waiting for—and talking with—bank tellers. And when's the last time anyone has waited to use a pay phone?
This productivity revolution based on queue-quashing has just begun, yet even now you can almost live your entire life without waiting in line. Amazon Prime will deliver most of what you need within two days. The taxi-on-demand service Uber lets you snake the cab line. FasTrak in California and E-ZPass in New York and New Jersey zip you into the quick lane to pay tolls. Heck, people are even buying ugly, overpriced Priuses to experience the nirvana of H.O.V. carpool lanes.
Fandango does away with lines for movie tickets, and Netflix posts the entire season of "House of Cards" at once so there's no more waiting for the next episode. At Disneyland, Fastpass, their "virtual queue system," eliminates waiting for Indiana Jones Adventure. Self-checkout lines at Safeway, ShopRite and Home Depot make swiping Visa cards quicker. A new company named QLess has a mobile app to eliminate lines at restaurants and stores by sending an alert to your phone when they're ready for you.
Europeans, on the other hand, seem to relish a chance to wait. Maybe it's the Continent's off-and-on love affair with socialism that causes them to think nothing of lining up for tickets, for trains, for museums, or for a chance to curtsy before the queen. Americans demand instant gratification. Lines are for losers.
The underlying technology of line avoidance is a great American success story.