Impatience: The Road Rage of the Keyboard

January 3, 2010 at 8:00 am (By Amba)

From the book Acedia & Me:  A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life

If time is perceived as an enemy, to insist that there is value in waiting is foolish.  Advances in technology such as e-mail and instant messaging all presume the question “Why wait at all?”  When I started using computers, in the mid-1970, I noticed that while the programs with which I kept track of the finances of several small businesses made my work much easier, they also made me more impatient.  I went from being grateful for how quickly new software could do the bookkeeping to snarling at the machine for being so slow.  While I knew that my desktop Apple was many times more powerful than the first UNIVAC, which had filled a huge room in the 1950s, I failed to be grateful for the inventiveness and skill that had made it possible  Instead, I sighed each time I had to wait while the machine checked a record, made a computation, or saved to disk the work I had done.

One day, when I timed one such annoying delay and found that it constituted all of ten seconds, I felt as if I had been slapped in the face and warned:  Pay attention–watch yourself. And when  did, I saw an idiot groaning with impatience over a tiny increment of time.  Technology had made a fool of me, for a few seconds of “waiting” in computer time is no longer than seconds spent “waiting” on a magnificent, rocky beach for the sun to rise over a pearl-tinted ocean; it is only my perception that makes them seem different.  And how I perceive such things is a matter of spiritual discipline.

Our perception of time is subject to technological revision, and increased speed has generally translated into a subtle diminishment of our capacity to appreciate our immediate surroundings. . . . Wendell Berry has written eloquently of pulling off the high-speed world of an American interstate highway into an Appalachian campground, and needing more than an hour to slow down and adjust to the rhythms of his own body and the world close at hand.

~ Kathleen Norris

(Makes me think about the many similarities between being online and driving.   A desktop is a minivan or SUV, a laptop a sedan or coupe, an iPhone or BlackBerry a sports car.  The screen is the windshield.  The keyboard is the gearshift and steering wheel.  The engine is your brain.  Slow-loading sites are traffic jams or stoplights.  Don’t you curse and swear at the keyboard or keypad just the way you do behind the wheel?  The only difference is, you can’t see the competing drivers and you don’t have a horn.  Maybe computers should come with horns for the self-expression of frustration, which is how drivers use them 90% of the time anyway.)


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8 Comments

  1. Chris said,

    If you haven’t already, you absolutely must read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Along with Gibson’s Neuromancer, it defines cyberpunk. You can borrow my copy, if you like!

    Having used mainframes, minis, desktops, laptops, handhelds, and smartphones, I’ve found my expression of frustration is inversely proportional to the size of the device, either because smaller devices are typically slower and less capable than their larger contemporary counterparts, or because they’re easier to throw.

  2. Donna B. said,

    Yes, that’s why the comparison of iphones, blackberries to sports cars didn’t work for me — they are slower and less capable! Not what I want in a sports car.

  3. amba12 said,

    My bad. I’ve never had a B-berry or iPhone, so what do I know?!

    Maybe they’re Austin Minis.

  4. Anne said,

    The quote you posted is a great reminder to put things in perspective! Today I wrote about perception of time in the context of planning for 2010:
    http://www.beruly.com/?p=540
    It is striking to me how perception of time is so individualized.

    Oh…and sign me up for one of those computer frustration horns!

  5. amba12 said,

    Anne — I love the name of your website. I totally get it. Maybe I even need it.

  6. Niel Stetz said,

    Great post!

    I love the comparison — it makes me think.

    Fight road rage!

  7. dustbury.com » Automatic choke said,

    […] It’s like road rage, except at the keyboard, says Amba: A desktop is a minivan or SUV, a laptop a sedan or coupe, an iPhone or BlackBerry a sports car. The screen is the windshield. The keyboard is the gearshift and steering wheel. The engine is your brain. Slow-loading sites are traffic jams or stoplights. Don’t you curse and swear at the keyboard or keypad just the way you do behind the wheel? The only difference is, you can’t see the competing drivers and you don’t have a horn. Maybe computers should come with horns for the self-expression of frustration, which is how drivers use them 90% of the time anyway. […]

  8. William O. B'Livion said,

    I did a similar check on myself today.

    I was trying to ping from a switch I was working on to the machine hosting the TFTP server and I got annoyed at how long it was taking to report success or failure.

    5 one second pings. Five total seconds. Yeah, they’re five seconds I’ll never get back, but I’d have wasted them on something equally as dumb.

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