Waiting for the White Sox could be easier. Here’s how.

(Photo by xmodulo.com, modified/CC BY 2.0)

One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, and one of its recent episodes dealt with the concept of waiting, and how various companies and organizations have shaped and manipulated the experience to make it more tolerable for customers and citizens.

Take computers, for instance. The Xerox Star of 1981, Jason Farman details in his book Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World, should’ve been a godsend to users, as it was the first computer to offer a graphical user interface instead of non-intuitive text commands. The Star processed tasks faster than anything else, but users didn’t necessarily sense it because it gave no expectation of time required to complete tasks. The Star, along with the Macintosh computers of the time, only offered static time-related icons, like an hourglass or a wristwatch, as an indication that some process would take a vague duration.

Various iterations over the next five, 10 and 15 years addressed some of these issues. Dynamic icons helped a little, at least until users had enough of a memory log of wheels and hourglasses that spun without resolution. The adaptation of progress bars proved immediately popular due to the transparency it provided — and even more popular when the specific progress reflected wasn’t technically accurate.

The ideal conditions for waiting include a dynamic, determinate indicator that underpromises and overdelivers. When installing a program or waiting for a video to load, it’s less frustrating when the progress bar starts slow and finishes fast. You can wait 30 minutes for a table at two restaurants, but if one host said it’d take 20 minutes and the other said 40, the latter would seem to have offered the superior service. The drag of disappointment is so significant that Farman says it’s better to have no indication of a wait time rather than one that gets strung along.

Now we have a proliferation of “indeterminate” indicators instead of “determinate” indicators. When I asked (Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Brad) Myers why indeterminate indicators still predominate, he noted that conditions on the internet fluctuate widely, and a progress bar that had been moving smoothly only to stall at 99 percent is more frustrating and dissatisfying than an opaque buffering icon.

* * * * * * * * *

If the White Sox feel inclined to grouse about impatience and the fans who demand “instant gratification,” they might want to direct their first line of criticism inward, because they haven’t exactly optimized the experience of waiting in 2019. The Manny Machado pursuit was the spinning hourglass to nowhere. Stalling the promotion of Eloy Jiménez one year and Luis Robert the next for service time considerations froze those progress bars on purpose. The injuries to the pitching staff and second tier of the farm system prompted Steve Stone to start emphasizing a five-year construction project when 2020 looked like Go Time at the onset.

That said, some of the White Sox success stories are too loud and proud to dismiss. Tim Anderson winning the batting title? Yoan Moncada batting .315? Lucas Giolito warranting down-ballot Cy Young consideration? Where the hell did they come from? Any one of those developments would have been a godsend. All three might give the White Sox a big chunk of the upside they need when very little of it appeared to be in-house one season ago.

The good stuff, it’s very good. The bad stuff, it’s rather bad. There aren’t many wrong ways to weigh the two, so your interpretation of road ahead comes down to how you feel about waiting on this organization at this juncture.

Along the same lines, all waiting isn’t created equal, and the 99PI episode and Farman’s book mark the spectrum. So, when it comes to the White Sox, what’s your waitstyle?

No. 1: Existential dread.

Maybe you think the White Sox have put you through three years of intentional losing only to end up in the same place they were before, with the entire plan hinging on pro scouting that has been nothing but deficient. From Farman:

As Harold Schweizer writes in On Waiting, our hatred of waiting might be linked to the deep fear that waiting is all there is. Life, we fear, is not waiting for something — to find the love of our life, for a better career opportunity to open up, for the plate to begin boarding so we can finally get away on vacation — but might only be the experience of time passing. Our hatred of waiting may be a reaction to the existential crisis that all we might have in life is to watch time pass without the ability to do anything about it.

No. 2: Happy to see some results, assuming they don’t stop.

When each second of load time costs a website a significant percentage of potential customers, companies have to find ways to keep viewers engaged until the process is complete. The 99PI episode highlights the travel website Kayak.com, which differentiated itself from the competition by showing some search results while describing what else it was processing:

Ryan Buell is a professor at the Harvard Business School. He says that Kayak couldn’t avoid making its customers wait because they need to do a fresh query every time a customer searches for a new ticket. Kayak was trying to figure out what they could show their customers while they waited. Buell says that the solution they came up with completely changed the way he understood waiting. “They just said, hey look, why don’t we just show them what we’re doing?” explains Buell. Instead of a progress bar, Kayak designed an animation that showed the user not only what percentage of the job had been completed, but exactly what the search algorithm was doing as it was doing it.

If the 2019 White Sox were processing your search request for a winning roster, they might only be halfway to completion. It wouldn’t be a dead page, though. You might see an overlay touting a string of encouring messages.

  • … obtaining All-Star pitcher …
  • … All-Star pitcher located …
  • … locating 6 WAR third baseman …
  • … 6 WAR third baseman located …
  • … producing above-average shortstop on affordable contract …
  • … above-average shortstop on affordable contract located …

And that might be enough to keep you from closing the window or looking elsewhere.

No. 3: Waiting is underrated, actually.

Writes Farman:

(In The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Colin) Campbell argued that modern consumers shape their identities by fantasizing about how a product will lead to the lifestyle they are daydreaming about, what he calls “autonomous, self-illusory hedonism.” For (Roland Barthes in A Lover’s Discourse), the same is true of how we wait for the ones we are in love with and long for: When the thing longed for finally arrives, it can rarely live up to the excitement generated by our imaginations.

I had this notion last year while watching fans advocate for Eloy Jiménez’s suppression.

It was easy to be romantic about Jiménez when he’s undressing Southern and International league pitchers with his line drives. It was harder to hold onto that dream when he carried a sub-.300 OBP while getting yanked around Comerica Park by a novice puppeteer on mushrooms. Jiménez overcame his initial struggles to blast past 30 homers, so all’s well that ends well. Why not let Luis Robert’s unprecedented and untainted minor-league success keep you warm all winter?

No. 4: Waiting is class warfare.

Throughout the book, Farman connects waiting to status. Those who have money or power decide whether they want to wait, or whether they make people wait for them. Those without leverage are at the mercy of the people and systems that disregard their desires.

Maybe you think the White Sox don’t have the resources of traditional large-market teams, and thus have to endure various delays and indignities in order to achieve their goal. Maybe you think the White Sox are the party in power and are choosing not to spend, the fans are the ones perpetually compromised, and your money and emotions are the collateral damage. Either way, it sucks.

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All of these are present in some respect, which explains the divisions and dissensions inside the White Sox fan base. My superfecta comes in at 1-4-2-3. It’d be easier to buy the illusion of waiting if it were a fancy new front office with a history of innovation putting the finishing touches on a fancy new product. As I wrote before the season, I view the White Sox as more of a BlackBerry than an iPhone, so there’s no allure in waiting for waiting’s sake on that product.

That leaves some undeniable and thrilling progress, but the course is still leading the White Sox into the same same territory that got them in trouble the last time. They’re going to have to add from the outside, and they’re going to need to actually convert on their signings at a decent clip. It’s entirely possible that Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams have learned from their mistakes, but when fans are the only ones who suffered the consequences from the first rebuild, it’s only natural to brace for impact.

I’d like to be more optimistic, and I admire the fans who are, because that’s what the game’s supposed to be about. Here’s hoping that attitude is rewarded, because we all would be better off.

In the meantime, the Sox can meet everybody halfway with some adjustments to their process. Hahn has already started by underpromising to amusingly granular degrees, but that’s better to do before a process, not during it.

From here, the only thing that can shift attitudes is information. Farman writes:

Sociologist Anthony Giddens writes of “expert systems,” systems that recede from view, removing the lay person from a full understanding of how the system works. Imagine, for example, that I am driving without knowing exactly how the car works, in a city where I don’t know how the computers are coded that change a light from green to yellow to red. For us to have trust in these systems, users ultimately require feedback. I am willing to wait, but not if there’s insufficient feedback about why I’m waiting and no information to give me a sense of control about how I wait.

In an ideal world, fans would be able to read Hahn’s texts in order to better understand why they’re waiting, and what they might be waiting for. The nature of the business suggests that feedback will only arrive if and when moves are made, and the slow pace of recent winters means fans are likely to be waiting once again. Under these circumstances, it’s only natural if they get irritated, and it’s up to Hahn, Stone and other White Sox personnel to avoid expressing irritation in return. Maybe the White Sox aren’t use to having leverage, but they hold it over fans, and exercising it with more empathy is about the best they can do until the winning arrives.

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This concludes the regular-season programming at Sox Machine. As I’ve said before, I’ve enjoyed returning to independence because I can write as a person for people, and I appreciate everybody who holds forth in the discussions here and on Twitter, making it a very cordial place to be.

Thanks to Josh for his dedication to the podcast, Patrick for his opponent previews, Ted for his Sporcle Saturdays, Greg for his Wake-Up Calls and guest-hosting, and to all of them for all the other ways they pitch in and allow me to have some semblance of a life. Also, thanks to Billy for his graphics and Carl for his portraits, both of which make the site look handsome as hell. Thanks to Jimmy for sharing his draft knowledge, and Jonathan for being our eyes and ears in North Carolina.

If you’re new to Sox Machine, I encourage you maintain what I can only assume is a multiple-visits-a-day habit. We’ll spent the next couple weeks breaking down the season and discussing the postseason, there’s some Black Sox stuff to get to, and then we’ll open up the Offseason Plan Project in mid-October. Once the World Series is over, we’ll throw ourselves into the offseason, and if the rumors aren’t all that interesting, we’ll delve into history, trivia, trivialities, and all sorts of other stuff. Also, P.O. Sox shifts to a weekly Patreon-only mailbag starting in November while the podcast is on hiatus.

After that? Well, here’s hoping the White Sox have a steady stream of moves in store, but we’ll know how to deal with a winter of nothingness if it comes to that. You’re more than welcome to wait with us.

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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mikeyb

Well, season is over, I’m thinking surely I’ll have to wait a month or so for a Jim Margalus All-Timer. Then this happens:

getting yanked around Comerica Park by a novice puppeteer on mushrooms.

2021soxodyssey

I appreciate Jim and the entire crew at SoxMachine. Your professionalism and insights, such as this article, are what make this site the best there is. Congratulations on a wonderful season and looking forward with anticipation to what the next season brings.

Patrick Nolan

Thanks Jim, for another stellar season of coverage.

karkovice squad

The White Sox Rebuild brought to you by our sponsor, David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King.

asinwreck

I expected Beckett when I opened this post and got Barthes and Giddens instead. No matter how high the expectations, Jim’s writing regularly exceeds them. Would that the 2020 White Sox follow suit.

Elena

Thank you Jim, and the entire staff (how vast!) for the information and enjoyment you bring to me and Sox fans every day. Thank you for bringing on Carl Skanberg, though I’d truly love to see his Sox cartoons again; what a sense of humor! I especially enjoy your Sox history columns…more, please.

lil jimmy

I’m a Sox fan, and always wanted a Blackberry. I did not realize they were related till know!
I must say, this is the most sanguine I have felt at season’s end in many years. It’s nice.

mikeyb

Heh I just remembered that the Sox are also now running ads asking their fans to use their own time to call up their cable providers and demand that they pick up the new White Sox network. Throwing Benetti into an ill-fitting suit and begging us to do their negotiating for them is so incredibly On Brand.

Hulksmash

Thanks for another great season, Jim! Looking forward (but also dreading) the offseason!

burning-phoneix

Making me wait to post my Offseason Plan Project. How dare you Jim, you might as well work for Jerry Reinsdorf himself >:(

PauliePaulie

MLBTR usually publishes expected arbitration figures the second week of Oct.

PauliePaulie

Thanks to the SM team for another stellar year of coverage.
My hope is the failure of the first rebuild was that they didn’t build enough depth before going after FA’s. This forced them to disperse $ and propsect capital over too many areas of need.

They can avoid a repeat of 2014 by allowing depth to build and avoiding expensive longer term additions before the home grown talent shows it’s warranted.

Smclean09

The first rebuilds problem is that they paid for depth. There is no problem paying for stop gaps while you have stars pre arb or actual premium talent. If they add either this offseason it has no negative effect on the teams ability to compete in 3 years. The depth can still build and be competitive.

joseValentinsMustache

Thanks for writing Jim! Your writing is so informative I apparently get to learn about UX design and the White Sox.

PauliePaulie

Interesting breakdown of roster construction for this year’s playoff teams.
Only the Twins and Nats recieved more WAR from FA’s (both had less production from trade acquisitions) than homegrwon talent or trades.

https://www.mlb.com/news/how-the-2019-postseason-teams-were-built?t=mlb-pipeline-coverage