The Internet

Please enjoy the wait

As internet connections and processing speeds have increased, some websites have begun to build in artificial waiting periods to complete requested actions. Facebook could perform its security scan instantly on request, but it incorporates a short wait, because instantaneous actions are perceived as less valid, less deep

"Let’s say you sit down at a restaurant, you order your food, and it comes out one minute later. Is that a good thing?" asks Braden Kowitz, design partner at Google Ventures (which has more than 250 portfolio companies including Uber, Slack, and Nest). "You start to wonder, ‘What’s going on here? Is something wrong in the kitchen?’"

This is the kind of foolishness we'll all laugh about after the singularity - at least, we'll perform the action that is congruent with laughter. Read more about all the time you're wasting for no reason here.

Through a filter darkly

On the heels of my recent post about the app Prisma, which renders photographs in the style of other artworks, I read an article that asserts that the filter you use on Instagram may be an indicator of depression

In a recent study, researchers Andrew Reece of Harvard University and Chris Danforth of University of Vermont built an algorithm which looked at patients’ Instagram feeds. They were able to diagnose depression with an accuracy rate of 70%. Their algorithm is better than a general practitioner’s assessment of depression after a face-to-face visit, which is only about 50% accurate.

There's a popular science fiction trope in which someone (or some entity) captures surprising patterns in the wealth of data that forms an online corona around each of us. It's not all that fictional; the technology exists right now, and is probably only limited by existing norms, and in certain places, legislation. Many people remember the consumer backlash when Amazon was caught altering prices based on user profiles; they dropped the practice, but so-called "dynamic pricing" is still in use elsewhere. 

All this had me thinking about pattern recognition in everyday life: how we all have areas of expertise in which an ostensibly-meaningless quantum of data (like an instagram filter) gives us unusual insight. One of the cool things about getting older is that I find my pattern-recognition is much more finely tuned than it was in earlier years. 

For example, my job brings me in contact with many people who are addicted to different drugs, particularly narcotics. I see patterns that clue me into a medical history of addiction much more quickly than would have been possible earlier in my career. I doubt I'm consciously aware of all the aspects of the pattern I'm perceiving - I just get a strong inclination, which is usually proven correct. 

I'm also, sadly, much more able to detect a pattern that says someone in front of me is about to die. You don't always get to choose the things you get good at. 

More Internet time capsules

I found some more examples of little electronic tidal pools, where small websites existed in isolation while their contemporaries evolved into vastly more sophisticated variations. Previous examples.

WestNet was a ISP (that's Internet Service Provider for some of you) in New York in the 1990's. Their website was supposedly updated until 2013, but it still reflects a distinctly late-90s design. They still had a page of their users' locally-stored websites. It's really kind of charming. 

Welcome to Pinball Expo 1994 is intriguing because its simplicity suggests a site formatted for modern mobile users, who are in some ways the 56k modem dial-ups of the moment (although both enlarging screens and increasing speeds make this less true with each year). It suggests that new innovations will somehow evoke older ones, as early-adopters are forced to adapt to common constraints. 

Internet time capsules

A piece on NPR about Bob Dole's campaign website, which has been running into the wind like a ghost ship since 1996, made me curious about other instances of untouched web time capsules from the past. 

The iconic example is Space Jam, created to promote the 1996 Loony Tunes/Michael Jordan crossover film, but there's also the promo site for You've Got Mail (1998). 

CNN's site for coverage of the OJ Simpson trial gives a freeze-frame of a cultural moment from 1996.

Cherished Zombo.com (1999), a site that exists for no other purpose than to promote itself, is probably the high water mark of Flash on the web.  

But if you want to know what the web was like in the mid-90's, kids, go no further than Strawberry Pop-Tart Blow-Torches ("Last Updated: 2G August 1994") which captures a sense of the exuberance we all felt when, for the first time, we could instantly share our experiences starting kitchen fires for science with the whole wired world. [EDIT: It has been suggested that this site is not orphaned, but merely maintained in its original format.]