Chris Coyier

Fast, Mattering

I’ve heard the guys on Dithering occasionally kinda poo-poo “5G”, that is, the next generation of cellular internet service. It’s already “rolling out” as they say, so if you happen to have a device that supports it on a carrier that supports in a region that that carrier offers 5G, maybe you’ve already experienced it. It’s supposed to be, you guessed it, faster. I generally agree with the poo-pooing in the sense that, for most people in most situations, that fast-ness isn’t particularly transformative. If you have 4G, which is far more prevalent, you can already do all the stuff you probably want to do on your mobile device. You can do your email. You can check your bets on playoff games. Your photos will scoot themselves up the cloud as you take them. Your kid can sit at a restaurant streaming Bluey. When you have 5G, you’ll just… keep being able to do those things. It doesn’t exactly open any new doors.

In contrast to that, I remember listening to… some Malcolm Gladwell podcast maybe?… where the sponsor was some cellular carrier and the ads were a conversation between (Malcolm?) and the CEO and the CEO was spouting off all these ways that 5G really would be transformative. Obviously, CEO was incredibly incentivized to make these proclamations and was in fact paying money to say them in this case. But sure, if some doctor-in-the-field had an iPad with broadband-quality internet on it when previously they had no internet at all, that’s a big deal.

I’d consider speed improvements that aren’t transformative the exception. Usually fast really matters. Think of what a big deal an order of magnitude of time is for things like how fast a package can be delivered, how fast you can pound in a nail, or how quickly you can heat up an emergency shelter.

But of course, I love the tech stuff the most. It matters how quickly a browser can receive, process, and make interactive a website. The thing that had me thinking about this though? Languages that are inherently faster. A big story happening in tech the last few years is how languages like Go and Rust are just so damn fast they are transformative just in that feature alone. Build tools built in these languages are usually an order of magnitude faster at least, which changes the feel (and the all-important feedback loop) of development. Not to mention things like data transformation tasks. Say you had a data set that required computation that would take 6 days, but then a language came along that could do it in 6 minutes. That is transformative. That 6-day task? It’s likely you just wouldn’t do the task at all. It’s too long. You’d just avoid it or find a workaround. But 6 minutes? Sure, just do it.