Why I Hate to Wait: The Real Cost of Less-Than-Immediate Computing

"Lost" by Jose Maria Cuellar . Used under CC-BY-NC license.

“Lost” by Jose Maria Cuellar . Used under CC-BY-NC license.

If there is a single force on this Earth that unites us all, making clear that we are all the same regardless of our culture, gender, age, socioeconomic background, or language, it is that we hate to wait for technology.  Unfortunately, this is not going to be the force that eliminates war or poverty, but it does speak volumes about how we use these miraculous machines we’ve created and what we expect of them in our day-to-day interactions.  When we click, we want to see evidence that we clicked.  When we type, we expect characters to show up on the screen simultaneously.  Even in my earliest computer-related activities, I wondered why it took so long for the computer do do some things, while it seemed like it could handle anything I threw at it as fast as I could throw it in other situations (those of you who have used a BBS know exactly to which pain I am referring).

Interestingly, though, my problem isn’t one of simple, aggravated frustration.  Again, this is probably because I cut my digital teeth in a world where online speed was measured in baud and most data moved around in 720 K chunks via sneakernet.  In those days, the expectations may have been low, but there were still basic things we expected computers to do, such as reflect our input.  When something happened and we were forced to wait (which happened a lot), we sometimes got frustrated with the machine itself and banged on it like it were some sort of mechanical device (perhaps one of Grace Hopper’s bugs got in there somewhere?), but we never really walked away.  We never gave up because computers were just like that and we accepted them in all of their fickle imperfection because we didn’t know any better.

Now, that may sound like an advantage at first, and indeed it probably is when dealing with magic boxes one barely understands, but it does come with its own set of problems, especially given the current ubiquity and pervasiveness of the web.  In particular, when I have to wait for login information to be e-mailed to me by an automated system, I tend to wait for a few minutes, but invariably if it isn’t in my mailbox in under 180 seconds, I get distracted by something else and then completely forget that I ever signed up for an e-mail in the first place.  This is precisely the problem I’m having with a number of the services to which we were directed for text mining.  In the case of Bookworm, it’s been several days, and the only reason I remember that I signed up in the first place is that I wanted to be sure to write this blog post about my frustrations surrounding text mining.

So yes, in short, sometimes the biggest frustrations we face in the realm of technology is not the software itself, but simply getting access to it.  I know that’s been my struggle on a number of occasions outside of the work we’re doing for Digital Methods, and it has popped up occasionally in #digimeth, as well.  As in everything else, persistence and purpose will win out in the end, but sometimes I wonder how much I haven’t learned just because I forgot I was interested in the first place.

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