George Gilder writes that "in every era, the winning companies are those that waste what is abundant – as signalled by precipitously declining prices – in order to save what is scarce." What is abundant today, he argues, is information technology - in particular, computing cycles, data storage, network bandwidth. Google, writes Gilder, operates a "massively parallel, prodigally wasteful petascale computer" in order to be "parsimonious with that most precious of resources, users' patience."
This really does cut to the issue, all this computer equipment is implemented to preserve user patience. The problem is that these days, no one really knows what patience is when it comes to computing. When I started using computers in grade school, I used to lug home these huge terminals, which you connected to the mainframe via a telephone line. I remember 300 baud where you could read the data off the screen as it was being typed. I distinctly remember 19,200 as well, because at that speed the whole screen would fill up with text almost immediately. And I thought, wow, this is great.
I also remember 25 Mhx processors, where doing anything even remotely interesting took several days to run. Where creating a zip file took 2 or 3 hours. You had to be careful because one mistake could be hours or days wasted.
As Carr notes, things have advanced so much that now things like processing power, hard drive space, and network capacity are 'free', and are treated as such. The problem is is that they are really not. It reminds me a lot of the meatpacking industry, where the steak is just served up on the plate. No one really cares how it is delievered, until, of course, you can't get steak.