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Why We Flip Out So Hard When Our WiFi Is Slow, According To Science

When that little rainbow wheel of death appears on my computer, I just want to punch the screen.

And I know I'm not the only one who's overreacted while waiting for something to load.

These daily technological annoyances are what Neil F. Johnson calls micro-delays, which are microscopic impediments that make huge differences to us.

In an industry where I research fitness fads and watch videos of adorable dogs, a 350-microsecond of a delay really doesn't affect me.

But on Wall Street in the fall of 2016, that tiny delay of data threw off algorithms in trading markets and created a feedback effect on the price dynamics.

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Neil F. Johnson is on a mission to figure out why these micro-delays cause extreme behaviors.

In a Policy Forum for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Johnson explained that now more than ever, it's more important to understand these reactions because similar delays may be applied to navigational networks in cars without drivers and drones.

For example, could a delay in your self-driving car cause you to panic, press the wrong button and crash the device?

Just 10 years ago, it took up to 20 minutes for a desktop to boot up. Now, if we have to wait more than 10 seconds, we get angry and yell at the computer.

How did we as a society get to the point where waiting seconds made us react so intensely? Why do we need the instant gratification?

One reason could be our conditioned anticipation of immediate results.

When we are waiting for data to show up on a screen or a text to pop up, we are in a “prepare and hold” state. We are ready to take the next action.

Our brain naturally anticipates the positive outcome, but when we expect something to happen faster than it actually does, our positive anticipation becomes built-up tension, boredom or frustration.

The “Surprise, you have to wait now!” factor can set off angry responses, which then leads to rash decisions.

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The reason we become frustrated with technology more now than in the past is because we've become so used to speedy results. We've become spoiled with efficiency, and it's affecting our health.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD, warns that allowing yourself to become upset about the wait could result in extreme behavior, like raised blood pressure, ulcers and, ultimately, heart disease.

He suggests that when you find yourself waiting, you should occupy yourself with another task. Do not simply stare at a loading screen because that will not make time go faster.

One way tech companies and websites can lessen the anxiety of its users is by giving them estimated wait times. People do better when they know how long they have to wait.

If a company is planning on updates and knows they will cause delays, the company could simply let people know they're about to happen.

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We ourselves could also take actions into our own hands by chilling out a bit.

The next time you are experiencing crappy WiFi or waiting to get a text back, do something relaxing. Listen to music, or call a friend.

After all, the ability to hold off gratification is a sign of maturity.

That's adulting for real.

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Camille Theobald

Freelance Contributor

Camille is a health and fitness nut by day and Stand Up Comedian by night. She hosts the weekly podcast HealthyAF where everyone from Personal Trainers to recovering Chocoholics talk about their journey to health. Her love for green juice and f ...
Camille is a health and fitness nut by day and Stand Up Comedian by night. She hosts the weekly podcast HealthyAF where everyone from Personal Trainers to recovering Chocoholics talk about their journey to health. Her love for green juice and f ...

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