Time has always bothered me; I don’t really believe in it. It’s a human invention, a representation of reality. Now the passage of time, that’s something I can believe in. You can feel it. You can measure it. But it’s always, ALWAYS, relative to something else. Like when you’re in the train station waiting for the train to leave and you don’t know if your train has started moving or if the train next to you is moving — you don’t always have a constant to base it on.
I was at Philly’s 30th Street Station recently, and I was hungry, but I only had 5 minutes before I had to get on the train. I saw the sign for Ben & Jerry’s — perfect, quick.
As I approached the counter, I saw this sign:
Be Back in
the cows and
While I am a big fan of their ice cream, and their determination to stay on brand, this sign was completely useless.
When did the sign go up? Would the cashier be back in a few seconds, or in the full 30 minutes? Should I stand there patiently, or walk away to find other food?
Ben & Jerry’s signage might be cute, but it certainly isn’t informative.
Social activity streams use a combination of relative time (30 minutes ago) and absolute time (12:20pm). Relative time can be very useful, particularly with short intervals, because it helps us to understand the recency of an event without having to do the mental calculation. But it only works when the system is able to continuously update the indicator with the passage of time.
Unfortunately, a piece of paper taped to a sign does not have this capability.
The jars of toppings on the back counter taunted me, and I stood for a minute or two furiously looking around for someone in a smock and visor. Then my train number was called over the loud speaker, and I sulked onto the train, ever hungrier for a delicious scoop.
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