Monday, February 25, 2008

When Is Lance Strate?, or We Have All the Time in the World

Maybe you've downloaded something from iTunes, or a favorite Web site or (dare I say it?) BitTorrent and resented the time it took to download the desired file, song or movie? Maybe you wanted to back up your files to an external hard drive and a little dialogue box pops up to inform you of the time remaining? It's interesting to notice that it gives you a relative time duration. The last time I backed up my MP3's my computer told me that it would take 200 minutes. After a few seconds, the numbers started dropping drastically till it settled on 43 minutes. I noticed that the only consistent measurement was the amount of megabytes/gigabytes being transferred. The time was relative to the speed of the connection and the upward limit of the amount of information that the connection could handle. While the events still progressed in "Real Time," and in fact it did take 43 minutes for all 32.8 gb of my music to be saved, the time calculation shifted constantly. Sometimes it assured me 30 minutes, sometimes 50. The computer didn't care that the download happened in my 50 minutes, it only cared that it would be done when it was done, the time was only there for my benefit.

It's this weird phenomenon of relative time that Lance Strate talks about in his essay on "Cybertime." The computer is ruled by technical limitations, it creates it's own time. The internet only adds to that. The events still happen in "Real Time" but they're ruled by the computers that process them. A good example is sending an e-mail. I've sent e-mails to people on different e-mail clients and find that sometimes an e-mail will take far longer to reach one person than it does another. With AOL and gmail, it's almost instantaneous. Some hotmail users might take a few minutes. Sometimes, the e-mails don't arrive for hours. It doesn't change the content or the meaning, but can bring messages out of context. Imagine a series of important e-mails where the key piece doesn't arrive until after the conclusion?

Computer time doesn't work on a strict progression of cause and effect, it works on many levels of running information back and forth. Most often that information works withing the normal time framework we're used to. Sometimes, it doesn't. I'm sure we've all clicked on a program on the desktop, and the application loads slower than we'd like, but the computer remembers the strokes and clicks you've made and adds them as soon as the program is open.


forand said...

Right, "as soon as the program is open". If the wireless network is running extra slow or the website is temporarily down, internet users have no problem leaving their laptop screen to "take a leak" or watch some TV or make some food while the website loads. The internet experience is always grounded in reality; regardless of the cybertime influence.

Lance Strate said...

But do we become more impatient in reality on account of that experience? Does it change our expectations about the real world? About what is physically possible? Does it change the way we live our lives? I do believe the answer to these questions is yes.