Latency

In the context of computers (and networking), latency is the amount of time it takes for a data packet to go from one place to another. Latency is the more technical term for lag, which is when you are experiencing response delays while gaming. High latency is what causes time lag and makes gaming far less enjoyable. Low latency is ideal as this means you are experiencing smoother gameplay.

You can (abstractly) apply the concepts of latency to people—how they think, process information, and communicate ideas.

Who comes to mind when you think of high latency? Perhaps that friend or coworker who ~takes more time to digest in a conversation. What about low latency? Think about that person who reacts quickly with clever remarks.

What is better?

I find myself often gravitating towards people who exhibit low latency. People who are quick to respond. Who have clever remarks. Who are quick witted. I tend to judge people who are *slower* and discount their opinions and think of them as less competent or trustworthy.

But lately, I have been rethinking this bias…am I missing out on the high latency processors?

Unlike computer-latency, it is not “strictly better” to be low latency.

You may be low latency—quick to respond—but deliver low quality information. You may be high latency—slow to respond—but deliver extremely high quality information. You probably know people who fall into these categories as well.

These are the people who reinforce the notion that motion does not always equal progress. They create lots of work. They talk a lot. They say lots of things. But those things tend to not mean anything quality in particular.

Now this is not to be a case against prolificness—I for one do believe in the notion of 10,000 hours (or lots and lots of practice)—but it is an argument towards orienting, or at least trying to orient, towards progress.

You see this a lot at work and in school. There is a ton of motion. Tons of numbers. Tons of charts. Tons of STUFF. But what really matters? The answer surely is that it depends. This is an answer I struggle with—I sometimes crave rigidity and clarity (the things you find in basic principles of math).

At the end of the day, I see this as one of the principle challenges of life: navigating the noise and finding what you truly care about.

There is no best way to do this but I think, depending on the context of your situation, you’ll find practices (some fancy people call these mental models) that help you arrive at *better decision making patterns (i.e. principles that help you invest your time).

There are stories and lessons that cater to most all styles.

  • Speed matters. You only live once.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.

What is the *right* advice? It is hard to tell. I have spent a lot of cycles trying to navigate this riddle but generally resolve to the following—a rethinking of the initial question. It is not about what the right advice is. It is about what is the right advice FOR ME. Those are DIFFERENT. To put even more precise language in place, it is not just about the right advice for ME (me in a general sense), it’s about the right advice for me in this moment RIGHT NOW GIVEN THE SPECIFICS OF MY PERSONAL CONTEXT.

These nuances lead the following paradoxes to occur—you have someone like Sam Altman (probably worthy of another essay) who used to run YCombinator (the* startup accelerator) that would share startup advice with the community. For the short context, Sam and YCombinator were the *thought leaders* of the tech community. They talked about shipping products fast and talking to users. There’s a lot more advice on the YC website you can check out here. Turns out, when Sam left YC (after many years) and went ahead and started his current company (OpenAI) he actually ignored most all of YC’s advice. That was a surprise (at least to me, someone who had gone through YC and read a lot of what Sam had written). What is the lesson in this? Is it that all that advice is bad? Is it that all advice is bad? Is it that Sam is bad?

What do you take from this?

What I take returns to my point a few paragraphs above—that you can take advice and do with it what you want and most of the time, with enough hard work, you can _make it work_. And then you can write stories and profess given your hindsight bias that you knew the plan all along (note: this is satirical but does tend to happen all the time).

The above small story is a pretty groundbreaking set of knowledge for the student in me to digest and really accept—ALL ADVICE IS RELATIVE AND MUST BE APPLIED TO THE SPECIFICS OF YOUR SITUATION?

Who do you worship? Why? Who are you jealous of? Why? What if I told you that none of this matters because again ALL CONTEXT IS RELATIVE.

How much have you really internalized and accepted that? I can tell you most college students haven’t. I can tell you most adults haven’t.

They worship someone for BEING BETTER AND KNOWING MORE. But why do we do this? Why do we look towards these places as sources of respite when the reality is that NO ONE HAS THE TRUTH. Not buddhists. Not celebrities. Not the pope.

The truth must be inside you.

I pause for a moment as I write this because the reality is surely that I am projecting here so I want to caveat that I am not trying to disassociate myself from them—the worshipers—but I am trying to draw attention to my hope and aspiration to _be accepting of the world_ and safe from the treadmill that is life (and interpersonal dynamic).

So when choosing how and where to spend your time…I ask a lot about what my default looks like…where do I go?

I would say I used to go outwards more but lately I have been leaning inwards.

How do I feel?

What am I thinking about?

What does my gut tell me?

Why does my gut tell me that?

Where is that emotion coming from? Is it out of fear or confidence? Where in my life have I been here before?

These are the things I am thinking about as I transition from operating as a reactionary to living with more intention. (Reminder to myself that this is not a one time transition—this is a transition that I likely will endure for the remainder of my life. It’s a choice, to not blame the external world for inefficiency and instead ACCEPT IT and operate around it).

So to return to the starting point—when processing information, is the answer to be high or low latency?


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