In the early 70’s there was a rule in computing which stated that 2 seconds was the longest amount of time allowable between entry and response of a protocol while using a computer. This ‘user response’ time was universally accepted as the time it takes a person to understand a response and formulate a reaction..

This all changed in 1982 when IBM released a report called “The Economic Value of Rapid Response Time.” In this report Walter Doherty surmised that computer programmer output increases as system response time falls- shattering the 2 second hypothesis and instead showing that reducing this time down to .3 seconds would increase work productivity by almost 100%.

At the core of Doherty’s view point, was the assertion that when interacting with digital mediums, we do not think of things on an action-by-action basis, but rather as a group of actions within a window of focus and thought. By streamlining the execution process within that window we optimise the window of time itself and thus the task being accomplished (which was like gold in a world of terminal access).

This view point has now spanned beyond just the programming world. From webpage load times, to media to render times, to replacing human factory workers with robots- near every aspect of our lives is now governed by shaving hours, minutes, and seconds from tasks to optimise.

In our rush for every entity to shave these seconds we’ve created a world where we patch one solution over finding new ways of stacking finding new ways of stacking creating complexity in the name of the optimisation we champion.

We seem to be moving so fast, we have forgotten about the idea of optimising ecosystems, choosing instead to invest our energy into the zapier-esque add ons which allow us to daisy chain patches together to illuminate organisations.

But at some point the end user has been forgotten. The mother who just wants an easy way of keeping up with the family. The small business with less than 1000 clients and no ambition beyond regional looking for a meaningful way of taking feedback. The community organiser who is tired of polling people on one system, getting feedback on another, and then billing and accounting on yet a third system. Our society of overlapping windows of productivity has given rise to ‘stacking.’ As opposed to rethinking the windows of productivity themselves, new companies exist in their vacuums , dictating productivity and finding ever new ways to stack.

But — The problem with these vacuums is you become so obsessed, so narrowed, so entrenched in what you see and the direction you all row, you begin to bring the end user to the product instead of the end product to the user. It starts small — disallowing right-clicks in google sheets, perhaps beta testing in one group but not another. Then it grows bigger rolling out productivity tools on social networks, and changing UX/UI just to appear different from a big player.

You snowball- getting more and more ‘clever’ expecting adoption and nothing less, until one day…you become too clever. One day you aren’t sure who your end user is as the crowd of early-adopting technophiles surrounding you, existing within your happy vacuum, isn’t quite indicative of the world in which you find yourself.

And at that point you’ll ask yourself- is doing something in the name of mass optimisation, the same as truly optimising for the masses?

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