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In the blink of an eye

If you are as old as I am, you probably remember a time when you actually had to dial-up an Internet connection. Sometimes it took two minutes; sometimes it took ten; and sometimes it didn’t work at all. Seema Goswami writes.

brunch Updated: Mar 10, 2012 18:18 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times

If you are as old as I am, you probably remember a time when you actually had to dial-up an Internet connection. Sometimes it took two minutes; sometimes it took ten; and sometimes it didn’t work at all. When you finally connected, every site took ages to open up, and then just as you were finally getting into it, the connection would magically disappear. So then you had to dial-up again and again.

I remember spending entire afternoons at my desk, just waiting to first get through and then finish my research. Over time I got canny enough to arm myself with a magazine to while away the time spent waiting. Sometimes, just to mix it up, I would buff my nails; call a friend for a chat; eat a sandwich; even do my stretching exercises. (Okay, I made up the last one; but the rest of it is true.)

In case you’re wondering why I am blubbering on about the bad old days of Internet connectivity, my nostalgia was triggered by a recent news report that said that people will visit a website less often if it is slower than its competitor by more than 250 milliseconds. What is 250 milliseconds in peoplespeak? Well, it translates as the blink of an eye.

HourglassSo, if a website is slower than its rival by even a blink of an eye, we will abandon it in favour of the faster one. As Arvind Jain, the resident speed maestro at Google, says, "Subconsciously, you don’t like to wait. Every second counts." Or, more accurately, every nano-second. Harry Shum, speed specialist at Microsoft, agrees, "250 milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the web."

And no doubt with time, we will only get more demanding. As recently as 2009, a study by Forrester Research found that online shoppers wanted pages to load in two seconds or less. The moment you hit the three second mark, a large percentage would simply abandon the site and move on. Just three years earlier, however, a similar study had found that the average expectation for page load time was four seconds or less. So, with every year, our desire for speed, well, speeds up even more.

But if you ask me, this is not simply about our impatience while surfing the Net. In a sense, this report is a metaphor for our times. We want it all, and we want it now. And by that I mean NOW, not 250 milliseconds later! Okay?

Ours is not a generation that sees any virtue in delayed gratification. And the generation after ours, which has been weaned on smartphones and grown up on iPads, is going to be even less patient. Soon the 250 millisecond mark will be whittled down to 150 milliseconds, then 50 milliseconds – until a time comes when we will want the page to load intuitively even before we have clicked on it.

We can already see the signs. Everyone is always in a hurry. In a hurry to grow up; in a hurry to hit the fast lane; in a hurry to get rich; in a hurry to get into shape; in a hurry to be famous; in a hurry to retire; in a hurry to well, you get the drift. And of course, everyone is in a hurry when on the Net. What, 250 milliseconds too slow? Bam, you’re dead.

StuckSadly, this impatience has percolated into every area of our lives. You see it in the professional sphere all the time. No one wants to stay in the same job for too long for fear of stagnating. They want to move on and up – and on yet again, even if the raise offered is a few thousand rupees. The idea of staying on and working for the same firm – like the company-men of an earlier generation – is anathema to anyone under the age of 30.

Or let’s look closer home. Children, these days, seem to be in a tearing hurry to grow up. The teenage years appear to start at 10 rather than 13; they are dating at 12 rather than 16; and they seem to know more about sex at 15 than we did ten years later.

Personal gratification is another area where our expectations have speeded up. Want to lose weight? Yes. But who has the time or inclination to do the old-fashioned way: by eating less and working out more. That would just mean losing a kilo a week, duh! That’s simply not fast enough.

So bring on the fad diets, the slim cures, the week-long fasts, the plant juice detox. Instead of taking a long-term view, look for the quick fix. Check into a fat farm, a body boot camp, or a yoga retreat for a week or so. And if none of that works, well then a little bit of liposuction never hurt anyone – and you’ll be home before lunch to snack on some fast food.

Ah food! Cooking is becoming a lost art because few people have the patience to rustle up a home-made meal from scratch. And eating out in a restaurant has become like a race against time. I want my menu now. Bring the bread to the table already. What’s with the ten-minute delay between courses? Of course, I don’t want the soufflé; it takes 25 minutes!

You do realise that I don’t have even 250 milliseconds to spare, don’t you?

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First Published: Mar 10, 2012 13:28 IST