First world issue: Hourglass syndrome

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First world issue: Hourglass syndrome

As the pace of technology has rocketed over the past 10 to 15 years, so have our expectations as end users. It’s amazing when you stop and think, just how far we’ve come. Your phone has more processing power now, than the computers that sent men into space. Your smartphone is a truly portable computer that fits into your pocket; not some enormous room filling machine that relied on holes punched into cards and printed out ticker tape. Your desktop, or even laptop, has more power than most ‘super’ computers only 7 to 10 years ago.

The raw power of the modern CPU has meant that everything can be done quicker, with more done at the same time meaning we’re potentially more productive. Of course, no one could have predicted that you needed those extra clock cycles for all those YouTube videos you watch whilst you’re ‘number crunching’ in Excel; but combined with plentiful and relatively cheap RAM, you can really put the multi into tasking.

All that power has created a typically first world problem: Hourglass Syndrome. With incredibly high expectations, comes frustration when things don’t appear to happen instantly. Hourglass Syndrome could be defined as the interminable rage created by having to wait for events to occur on a computer, seeing the hourglass icon, or pin-wheel. You click your mouse and if it doesn’t fire up your program of choice, or execute that command you need instantly, you’re annoyed. That instantaneous expectation is only enhanced by companies Intel, promising to pump more and more power into your computers, often with higher and higher prices.

But there’s a serious edge to this somewhat unrealistic expectation for instantaneous computing and that’s stress:

OK, Intel are having a joke here, and I wouldn’t say it’s a purely hardware related problem, but sitting in an open plan office full of non-techy people, I often hear people smashing their keyboard, clicking furiously on their mouse or just plain shouting at the screen. If you have to wait for things to happen on your computer, your average user doesn’t understand what’s happening and keeps clicking, causing yet more waiting in a perpetual cycle of frustration.

The problem isn’t limited to the desktop however. As smartphones and tablets become more prevalent, we demand more and more of them. If you thought waiting for your computer was frustrating, waiting for your phone whilst out on the street is even more so. But whom do we blame here? Do we blame processor manufacturers, Intel, AMD, Samsung or Qualcomm; perhaps it’s their fault for not keeping up? And there we have another culprit, the software we use, surely processors shouldn’t need to ‘keep up’? Should we blame Microsoft for creating too demanding operating systems, or indeed to some extent Apple or Google for not optimising their operating systems? It’s true that software efficiencies are crucial to a smooth and responsive system – the mobile space has proved that. Google’s Android performance increases from 2.1 Eclair to 2.2 Froyo were dramatic on set hardware, meaning that it was purely software optimisations, improvements and refinements that contributed to the apparent enormous speed increases. But is it our expectations that are at fault? It’s unrealistic to think everything will happen instantly. More often than not, for the majority of users, current computing power is far in advance of what they need. Office workers word processing, doing a bit of number crunching in a spreadsheet or simply browsing the web, certainly don’t need a powerhouse to get work done.

Hourglass Syndrome is something I suffer from in my computing life, whether it’s waiting for programs to launch or struggling with Flash on a Mac, I find waiting infuriating. But there are times when you know how long some actions are going to take allowing you to launch them and go make yourself a coffee. Thankfully there aren’t that many situations that warrant that kind of wait, especially riding the newer Intel and ARM chips.

As with all things revolving around the technology space, performance increases have meant that waiting is certainly becoming a rarer and rarer problem, but do you, dear readers, suffer from Hourglass Syndrome? What are your best methods for dealing with it; any tips for negating the frustration?