We see colors, hear sounds, and feel textures. These aspects of the world can be perceive through our senses. But what sense (or senses) do we employ to perceive time? It definitely cannot be tied to one particular sense; it is strange to say that we see, hear, or feel time passing because even if we lost our ability to see, hear, or feel, we wouldn’t lose our ability to experience time. We perceive time in its passing, we perceive its passing in the environmental changes our senses (see, sound, etc.) experience. Without visual cues, the Sun rising and setting for example, it would be extremely difficult for us to get a handle on time durations. That is one reason individuals in solitary confinement see alterations in their judgment and perception of time, completely altering their sleeping patterns, their eating schedules, and their energy levels; time is a subjective experience.
Because time is a subjective experience, it is also malleable. Sylvie Droit-Volet and Mickael Berthon (2017), two psychological researchers found that spikes in emotions can have in impact on one’s internal reference temporal interval. In other words, experiences of high emotion (anger, frustration, happiness, sadness, etc.) effects one’s ability to accurately perceive time passing. The more intense the emotional experience, the faster the internal clock registers a pulse over a given period, meaning that an individual will believe more time has passed then actually has.
Another human-time interaction that strongly shapes how we react to the passing of time is our need to control it. This past summer, I went to Universal Studios. Needless to say, the lines were terrible. I can only image how much worse my experience would have been without the waiting time boards in front of every ride. Without that, time would have passed incredibly slowly with no end in sight, and every minute would have really felt like five. However, if your wait time is longer than what was advertised, that creates a whole other set of issues. I personally like knowing how long I’ll have to wait for something because it allows me to decide what I will and will not spend my time doing.
Both the malleability of time and our need to control it makes the use of buffering a perfect way to pacific impatient users. Dynamic placeholders such as the spinning loop for Google searches, or the spinning loop before YouTube videos, or the spinning loop for Netflix (do you see a pattern?) keeps our emotional responses low, keeps us distracted, and gives a sometimes false sense that important stuff is happening behind the scenes. There are countless of examples, including the ones I just briefly mentioned. A few years back, YouTube even went as far as to allow users to play a Snake Game while their videos loaded and turned the buffering icon into a fidget spinner for videos that featured the toy.
I do agree with Jason Farman that waiting is an essential part our digital experience, but I can guarantee that no one ever likes seeing the spinning ball of death.