The Singularity, Patience, and Algebra Lessons on Exponential Growth

Nicholas Carr discusses the correlation between delays in the time it takes for online video to load, and viewer abandonment rates.  He also shows that as our access to broadband increases, our patience to wait for them decreases.

It’s a neat context for an Algebra 2 lesson, because in addition to providing a smooth curve of real data, it gives us an opportunity to philosophize on bigger questions.  Carr finishes:

One thing this study doesn’t tell us — but I would hypothesize as true (based on what I see in myself as well as others) — is that the loss of patience persists even when we’re not online. In other words, digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more resistant to delays of all sorts — and perhaps more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli. Because our experience of time is so important to our experience of life, it strikes me that these kinds of technology-induced changes in our perception of delays can have particularly broad consequences.

What are those consequences?  How can we measure them?  I’d love to consider those questions with a roomful of kids who have grown up living it.  It’s been noted by futurists that we as humans can only handle so much more “efficiency” from our technology.  So after looking at Moore’s law, and modeling how by any measure (clock rate, data storage, bang for your computing buck, pixels on a screen or in a digital photo…) our technology is advancing, we can ask the question – how much can we take?  We’ve already started changing with our technology, that much is clear, but at what point do humans reckon themselves as the bottleneck?  Is the Singularity actually the point where our patience reaches zero?

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