The personal website of Chris Coyier

Micro Waiting

I wasn’t around back then, but the very first computers were as big as a room and ran with punch cards you stuck in slots. It might take hours to perform a function. The computers users of those days didn’t wait around staring and drooling at the machine until it spit out a result, they went and did something else.

Nowadays, computers are exponentially faster. But what has happened is we have traded in wait time that happens all in one big chunk to waiting for a few seconds here and there interspersed within our computer usage instead.

We wait for our computer to start up.
We wait for applications to start.
We wait around while the operating system decides to beachball for no apparent reason.
We wait for slow web pages to load.
We wait for applications to process our logins.

Modern computing is loaded with waiting. And instead of that time being spent elsewhere like the computer scientists of old, these “micro waits” are spent staring at the screen, mind blank, waiting for whatever is supposed to happen next. I wouldn’t doubt that a significant percentage of our computer use time is pure waiting. Twenty percent? More?

A common gripe is that technology moves too quickly, it’s hard to keep up. Nonsense, I think. I’ve been tapping my foot waiting for technology my whole life. We need infinite storage, instant results from our actions, instant access to all our storage, and access from anywhere in the world.

Right now we are crawling toward that, not sprinting. But hey, it’s not like I’m really doing much about it other than optimizing a website here and there.