Snakes and Ladders: On Loading Screens

The game I wanted to play wasn’t loading into a necessary server.

I said, let me just reset this computer.

So I did. I hit the Windows button, and everything else, and reset the computer.

My monitor’s LEDs remained on, after the RGB lighting of the mouse and keyboard turned off. My screen was black, but it was backlit black, which is how I knew the computer was still on.

The screen then went completely black—completely off, or, probably more accurately, into an extreme low power mode—I honestly don’t know.

The screen then turned back on.

The LEDs of the monitor flashed, as did the RGBs of my peripherals; they flashed in ways they never flash other than at the computer’s start-up. If a fuse were to blow, it’d be during this sequence.

I got a really high-definition, white text on black background writing that said: “Restarting”—or was it “Loading?” Something.

I made it past the login screen, waited for Discord to load, then tried launching the game again.

The game had to update before it could be played. So I hit the update button. The download speed began at 3 megabytes, which I suspect is not good, but it gradually increased to about 8 megabytes, and at times it fluctuated in that range, but it usually remained toward the high end.

I then saw the download speed increase to double digits, quickly into the twenties, more frequently to the thirties.

But other times, rarely, but not rarely enough, the download speed fell back down to 3 megabytes. It recovered, until it didn’t, at which point my download speed spent a pronounced period of time dawdling in the kilobytes.

The fluctuating download speeds, which at either end of the spectrum represent progress at varying speeds, got me thinking: It makes sense that our society appears to be changing at rapid speeds. It is. It has to. The improvements seen with downloading speeds have accustomed the population that grew up with them to demand acceleration elsewhere.

Each generation holds the entire generation of human beings that ever lived, at any one time. There are enough in that generation who have been raised with ever-improving loading screens. Millennials certainly have, though of course I don’t pretend to assert this as a universal Millennial experience. It’s likely the majority of human beings have not been raised or been exposed to loading screens, not even once, but massive change, on a global scale, has come from those who have.

This is no new phenomena—celebrity and poverty are best friends, old friends. But now we have more celebrities and poverty who, I argue, are attributable to improvements in download speeds. But don’t misunderstand me; I merely make an observation about correlation, not causation. A singular cause—continuously improving download speeds—does not solely account for more of this old phenomena.

We hope for change to be positive. As the variating download speed shows—which has remained in the kilobytes as I write this—not every step forward feels like an improvement. Some of the slower steps forward, such as those occurring at kilobyte speeds, are excruciating. Yes, the file I am waiting for is marginally more ready now than it was before, but the speed at which improvement is achieved sometimes feels, and is, torturous. I’d prefer that the progress bar show me progress in big enough chunks when reached, rather than the slow drag that turns out to be necessary. Sometimes, in the pursuit of progress, we fall into the illusion that progress is being achieved simply because a change has occurred—we can be seen to have moved forward, yes, but perhaps progress is simply a consequence of time now past. A student studying history from a 10,000 foot view likely only sees the highlights throughout time periods when they were eventually achieved, as succinct bookmarks cataloguing advancement. Progress measured in kilobytes is left to academics who indulge in the minutiae that those living at any one time actually feel. That’s us, especially those of us who are politically minded, with an appreciation for history, and a keen awareness that a progress bar exists. Take climate: we have two progress bars there, one that leads to calamity, and another that leads to sustainability. Both quests are being completed, but we know from the warning signs of climate change which of the two progress bars is progressing faster. Carbon emissions, sadly, outpace the rate at which activists can throw more produce at works of art.

And as the variating download speed also shows, it turns out we have little control over that speed—little, but not none, since we could, after all, stop all progress. As long as we don’t stop progress, we can find new baselines—bookmarks of advancement eventually reached—but we can’t stop the fluctuations.

A progressive child of our time has to acknowledge that all of our value judgments are constructed, but once one has become aware of the progress bar’s completion or lack thereof, the best one can do is strap in and endure, or try to find new equipment/methods to move things along faster. I suspect that speed is addictive and like any addiction, the lack of speed results in irritability. Here, societal irritability would manifest as great societal tumult. Impatience could increasingly become the raison d’etre that traditionally structured societies fail to keep up with. An impatient populace would see slumbering government fail to address Reason and logic under these circumstances could go any which way, as indeed they always do. And, indeed, progress would take on the same capricious quality as this internet connection. I hope that whatever it is we’re waiting for is worth it.

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