Peter Cochrane's Blog: Instant delays

Why does all new technology involve a four-second wait?

Written while flying from London to Greece on BA632 and dispatched from a free wi-fi service in Athens.

Just over a year ago I undertook the complete renovation of an old house. It is now largely complete and, of course, bristles with technology: a new heating system, fire and burglar alarm, radio and TV, broadband and LAN, hubs, switches and wi-fi. You name it, I've installed it.

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What fascinates me is that all this new equipment, including the trunk mechanism of my car, seems to involve a two- to four-second delay.

I'm not all that comfortable with this. I come from a world - with experience of technology spanning 50 years - where pressing a button always involved immediate action or feedback.

What happened? Suddenly it seems everything subjects me to a delay for reasons that are not obvious.

Even my TV has infected me with multiple-click syndrome. Because changing channels involves a longer than natural delay, I tend to hit the button once or twice before anything happens on the screen, which confuses the entire system.

As far as I can see the same is now true for most new technologies. There must be a reason for all this. It looks to me like bloatware has now spilled out of the PC domain and invaded everything.

The world of the PC is now manifest in everything we buy. Our hardware is fast enough and does a good job but the software load is excessive.

Never before in the history of mankind has so much processing been deployed to do such simple jobs as switching on a light, changing channels, increasing volume, adjusting temperature or opening a car door.

We can only hope we shall see a return to sanity with the advent of new and leaner operating systems, and efficient code writers guided by sound design principles founded on well understood and documented human factors.

But I'm not holding my breath. In fact I'm actually struggling with a hotel bedroom door fitted with a tamper alarm that sounds like an air raid warning.

And yes - you've guessed it - there is a tricky door handle, plus e-card, warning and green lights, and opening and shutting protocols that conspire to produce a four-second delay.

But banging the door very hard seems to work. So perhaps there is even an accelerometer in there somewhere as well.