There was a time in the past when we stood at bus stops and we were a little bit bored, even just for a few minutes. We read the bus stop advertisement poster, pretended we hadn’t observed the other people waiting and idly stared up the street for what felt like a really long time. Standing on the platform waiting for a train, waiting for the pedestrian crossing to signal us to cross, waiting in the store for an available fitting room so we could try something on, in line at the supermarket checkout… all the same.

We thought about recent conversations we’d had, eaves-dropped on the people around us and pondered what we wanted to do that weekend, or whatever.

We used to have idle time. But not any more.

Now that we have smartphones and mobile data we have found a way of entertaining ourselves for even the shortest amount of time. Waiting in line anywhere? Out come our phones. Even if the pause in our day is only 20-30 seconds, we have found we can do some digital activity in that time. We can read a text, post a tweet, check our bank balances, read a news headline, refresh our Facebook feed or add a heart to half a dozen Instagram photographs. (For anyone not on Instagram, the hearts signal to the person who lovingly crafted, filtered and posted each image that we spent precisely 1.5 seconds on their picture and, even though 8 seconds later we can’t remember what it was, we know we sort of liked it.)

If we can’t remember the name of an actor we’ve seen, or a place we’ve recently been, our phones can give us the answer in a matter of seconds. We have conditioned ourselves to respond to the feeling of momentary boredom with some sort of fleeting digital activity. Most of it is nothing more than information sugar – instantly forgettable and insignificant. But we still get that little buzz of pleasure as a reward for having ‘completed’ a task.

Our instinct towards instant gratification is accelerating.

If you want to harness this behaviour ask yourself if there is a transaction your customers can do if they have a spare 20-30 seconds? Is there a way you can engage with them in that time? Is there a step of your customer journey they can quickly take? In what way can you meet your customers’ desire to have things resolved instantaneously?

Or do you want to take the vector? The opposite. Those idle moments used to be precious creative time, when our brains had to make up their own entertainment, when we used to pay more attention to other people and our surroundings. Pausing to be in the moment and refusing to feel compelled to always be on, always doing, always checking, responding and being notified.

A more fun but harder question for you… in what way can you slow your customers down and enable them to be more present and connected?