The Land Of Increments: Why Speed Is No Longer Sexy

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If Google is to be believed, the new service launched last week will save every user two to five seconds per search. It's all about predictive search but are seconds really something to tout?

I mean seconds matter — of course they matter to competitive athletes and scientists.

But I remember when it mattered to mere mortals doing ordinary things. I remember switching from 56K dial-up modem to a DSL modem that delivered the internet at a blazing 1 mega bit speed. In the 56K days, you'd watch an image load, then with DSL you no longer had time to go fetch a sandwich, while a video buffered.

It was dramatic, spectacular that a song downloaded in just three minutes. It felt like the internet had become immediate; it felt like, finally, the internet could deliver information as fast as your brain could process it.

The speed felt, well, sexy.

I bet that's what it felt like to go from a horse and carriage to a model T. Or from a car to the first airplane. I bet it felt dangerous; I bet it felt like something this fast couldn't possibly be stable.

In modern times, though, speed has lost its sexy. It's been relegated to a land of increments.

Google, here, is talking about seconds. They're introducing something that for the most part we won't even notice.

And this idea spreads to a lot of things in our life: With few exceptions, cars go as fast as you could humanely go in a city; engineers keep adding a ton of zeros to computer processors, but unless you're decoding the human genome, another zero won't affect your everyday life. And, really, being able to download a song in one second as opposed to two — does it matter?

Is it even perceivable?

Maybe it's a metaphor for human limitation. It certainly feels like when it comes to speed, we're at the edge of human potential. A human can only read so fast; we can only listen or watch so much audio or video.

In the end, it's a shame that there's so much speed yet no way to fully appreciate it.

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