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Why Is Speed So Important In Today’s Digital World?

The character Mickey Goldmill from Rocky knew it when he told Rocky, “You got to get speed, demon speed. Speed’s what we need; we need greasy, fast speed.” Although his advice was a few decades early, it still applies quite readily in the digital age.

Why is speed so important in today’s digital world?

The answer has to do with principles of psychology more than anything else, but the bottom line is rooted in customer satisfaction. Our world is full of actions that take place in less than a blink of an eye. Because of things that are now commonplace, which simply did not exist years ago, people have unbelievable expectations that they anticipate to be met which includes the time it takes for a website to load, actions to be processed, apps to launch and so on.

Louis CK said it best

In a recent stand-up routine, comedian Louis CK was ranting about the impatience of people. On an airline he was riding it was announced that the plan was now equipped with Wi-Fi and this would be the first time it would be available during a flight.

Five minutes into the flight the stewardess announced that the Wi-Fi unfortunately had gone down. A passenger complained, “Really? Greeeaaatt!” CK’s point was basically, “Shut up! This never existed before. How can you be put out by this thing you never experienced until now?”

An unfortunate aspect of today’s world is that a decent percentage of our society feels and acts that way about all sorts of things.

Objective Time vs. Psychological

Objective time is time that is measured. For example, football players commonly run a 40 yard dash for time as a way to measure their performance. Most computer functions are analyzed for objective time such as when you do a speed test on your internet speed.

Psychological time is the more interesting concept and has to do with each user’s perception of time. An example would be how commercials between TV shows take forever unless you need to go to the bathroom and suddenly they aren’t long enough. If in both cases the objective time is 3 minutes, the perceived times seems different based on what else it is we are doing and how our brains are engaged.

The 3 Second Rule

Does 3 seconds seem like a long time? On average you can read 8 words in 3 seconds. That doesn’t seem like much does it?

Studies have shown that 3 seconds is the average time it takes for a user to get bored and bounce from a website. Reducing 3 second lag to 2 seconds has been shown to increase conversions anywhere from 2 to 15%.


The simple answer is that psychological time is what most people use when waiting for a website to load, app to perform an action, etc. We as users are doing nothing else but sitting there in front of our phone, tablet, or PC waiting therefore we perceive every second differently that we would in other situations.

Understanding that concept is the key to understanding why every single second in loading time is critical.

Optimum Time

Does that mean everything needs to operate at sub 1-second times to be successful? Well honestly that would certainly skew the line in your favor, but studies have actually shown where response times truly fall.

The maximum response time our brains can handle is 0.1 to 0.2 seconds. We process this as instantaneous. When you shift to 0.5 to 1 seconds, it is noticeable, but is considered so small that it is universally acceptable much like when you ask someone a yes or no question and need that pause to listen for a response.

Once you move to 2 to 5 seconds the user already need to be engaged and absorbed as this time frame is acceptable for people who are concentrating and thinking. If instead people are waiting this long before being engaged there will be a problem as distraction or irritation has a tiny window in which to creep in.

According to recent studies, in 2015 the average attention span of a hum dropped to a mere 8.25 seconds. That means anything in the 6 to 10 second range is dangerous as users can easily be distracted.

Should I Optimize?

Unless your website is blazingly fast then yes you should always look to optimize your website or app to ensure you are meeting your customers’ needs. Different processes will have different expectations and thus some will need to be faster than others.

For example, you want a page to load immediately which can be in 1 second or less. However is a user performs an action such as pressing a button ideally they should get an instant response that occurs in the 0.1 to 0.2 range. In every case there should be context based on what the user is doing and ultimately how your performance in each area compares against competitors.

If or when you do opt for performance optimization, aim for at least a 20% improvement in speed from what you currently have. Studies have shown that a 20% improvement in speed is the lowest threshold a user will notice in comparing a remembered action to a current one.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that speed always has been and always will be coveted. The 3 second rule alone should be reason enough for people to want to optimize performance. Of course the biggest reason why speed is so important in today’s digital world is that humans’ attention span has dropped 4 seconds in the past decade as our expectations and impatience has grown.

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