Response Time

I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with someone that wasn’t broken up by checking phones. It seems when our memories fail, we have to know the answer instantly. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I can even recall how I used to manage. Having access to information instantly in my pocket 24/7 changes everything, maybe in more ways than we’re willing to realize.

My first experiences with the internet was with a dial-up modem. We made sure the phone line was clear before dialing. Then waited expectantly for the grainy-sounding digits to echo, connecting us… to what exactly I can’t remember. I just know it was new and exciting. But also very, very, slow. Downloading an image took ages, maybe even something you would start before bedtime to have a surprise waiting in the morning.

As downloading and connection times increased, so did our expectations. Patience, on the other hand, moved in the opposite direction. Now I find myself impatient to wait a few minutes for a friend running late. Or feeling frustrated if it takes more than .000006 seconds for my search results to appear.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupréy was, and still is, a favorite book to read. During his travels around the universe, the little prince meets someone who created a pill for people to take instead of drinking. Questioning the reason for this, the inventor explains we would save 45 minutes a day by not drinking. The little prince answers that he would spend his “extra” 45 minutes walking to a fresh water spring for a drink.

Though written about 80 years ago, this feels even more profound now. What do we do with all this extra time we’ve saved by getting answers instantly instead of, perhaps, going to the library? Or asking around? Or reading something ourselves instead of a summary? Naturally we’ve found even more ways to fill that time. A new app, scrolling through feeds, answering messages and posting them. Instead of feeling like we’re saving time with these advances, it seems as though it’s being lost at increasing speeds. And along with it, our patience for taking a leisurely stroll to get a refreshing drink of fresh spring water.

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