I recently received a letter from my broadband provider telling me that they plan to upgrade my connection speed in the near future, for free. I'm set for speeds of up to 8MBps, apparently, which is about quadruple what I'm getting now. Excellent. And about time too, because don't things take ages to download these days? That blog with all the photos in it, that takes ages. That website with the Flash adverts, that takes ages too. And that pdf file, that takes even longer. <taps fingers> <waits>
Which is strange, because five years ago even my current 2MBps broadband speed would have seemed utterly fantastical. Like you I was on dial-up back then, and thought nothing of waiting several seconds for even the simplest webpage to load. Opening a pdf file meant I had time to go make a cup of tea, while attempting to receive a large photo by email often brought my online session to a grinding halt. Some of the worst offenders were those show-off sites with Flash-designed homepages - the designers thought they were being clever, but would-be users usually couldn't be arsed waiting and moved on. And yet we survived, not least because most webpages recognised the limitations of slow download speeds and weren't over-fancy as a result.
But as connection speeds have rocketed, so webpage features have increased to take full advantage. Blogs now regularly contain several plugins and an albumful of images. MySpace thrives in 2006 because tunes and streaming media now download faster than they play. We expect more from our online browsing experience, and we get it. But on the downside we're forced to download more just because we can. New embedded Flash adverts are flourishing only because most of us can now receive them in seconds, not minutes. And aren't those extra seconds annoying? Downloading may be faster, but the end result remains as slow to appear as ever.
I fear that, before long, even 8MBps isn't going to be enough. I'd be happy enough with superfast text and images, but what I'm going to be forcefed is an increasing diet of streaming video with interactive java-enabled adverts. So long as most of us have the speed and functionality, content providers will rise up to exploit and fill it. We're always promised better, but all we get is more. And for those of you attached to the internet via slower connections (or even, heaven forbid, dial-up) sorry, you're completely buggered. Maybe you could come back and read tomorrow's post in three years time - it might load quicker then.