Low latency allows me to control the computer as if it were my body. I am able to control it through its peripherals without deliberately thinking. This is possible because of muscle memory. It’s what allows people to perfect their respective crafts, whether they be programmers, surgeons, or cooks.
Our bodies can notice delays within the single-digits of milliseconds. When we do notice them, they can be quite uncomfortable. In the natural world, no such delays are present, but digitally many such delays occur at every given moment. We, of course, should strive to minimize these uncomfortable delays.
Our bodies operate on the basis of feedback. Our bodies can be honed to be extremely efficient and precise. A pianist has a rigid foundation for his muscle memory. Only when he is made aware of how he is playing the individual notes, only then does he lose his flow and makes mistakes. This could be equated to the delay that snaps you out of the activity.
I believe that decreasing the amount of latency during computer use will prolong that state of flow and lead to greater productivity. Nothing makes you dread working on something more than your program stuttering or crashing. As anecdotal evidence that furthers this point, many people have switched over from Adobe products because of the constant crashing as well as inefficiency that breaks them out of their flow.
What I’m saying should be pretty obvious, right? Everyone wants a fast computer that does things instantaneously. And computers pretty much do most things instantaneously. Of course, there are operations that require more resources, and so you just have to wait a bit longer, but we have progressed far that a lot of things that were computationally expensive are now viable and fast, yet software in general has not sped up all that much. In fact, plenty of examples show that websites have become more bloated and slow, as well as software. As hardware became faster, developers became lazier.
Just take a look at the increasing latency of computers as time passes. It’s true that computer systems have become more complicated, but you can still achieve very low latency running a modern operating system. It doesn’t have to be like this! Just run a Linux distribution and you’ll see what a world of difference it makes.
Some might argue that the fast creation of useful software, albeit with performance inconsistencies, is a net positive for the world. But most software creates problems so that they can offer themselves as a solution. When software becomes widely adopted and becomes your only choice, at what point does it become unreasonable to waste months of your life in aggregate waiting for unnecessary delays and being uncomfortable?
Not to mention that corporate greed facilitates the creation of such software, but open source should be wiser, yet here we are. Developers should strive to perfect their software, as to provide the best value for its users. But some people creating open source software, first create it to solve their problem, and then distribute it for others who want a piece of the action. The software works well for them, and after all they are distributing it free of charge, why complain? I’m not enforcing anything on developers who spend their free time working on software for free, but that’s not a mindset you should strive for.
And then, there’s the societal problem, with the allocation of resources towards solving a problem. People will make due with what they have available at the moment. Those who have been presented with a solution to their problem will not allocate their resources towards improving it. They would think it’s not worth their time, and that the existing solution works well for them. This mindset leads to thousands if not millions of users losing years of their life in aggregate to unnecessary delays.
For me, the best productivity hack is to decrease latency. I think this advice works for other people too. Make your computer feel as if its your own body, and I’m sure you’ll get in the flow.
The things one could do to decrease latency are the following:
- High refresh rate display (144Hz+)
- High frequency peripherals (mouse & keyboard)
- Hardware that can handle the above
All of those are pretty easily available, and they’re getting cheaper. The only factor that is keeping us from having a consistent, low latency, is the inefficient software that developers keep producing.