Just a few years ago, those who wanted to get online had to wait impatiently with nothing to do but listen to that distinctive crackling and beeping sound of the dial-up connection being made.
Now it takes only “micro-moments” to connect to wifi or for web pages to load, but scientists have found a useful way to kill them — learning a language.
Researchers in the US argue that we have the time to brush up on our bonjours even in our “hyperconnected” digital world.
They have developed a series of apps called “WaitSuite” that test you on vocabulary during idle moments, such as when you’re connecting to a network or waiting for an instant message.
The apps build on micro-learning apps such as Duolingo, which teaches foreign languages through bitesize, repetitive exercises.
However, unlike these apps, which require the user to log in, the team’s exercises pop up on to your computer or mobile phone screen automatically whenever the software detects that you are waiting.
The apps cover five common daily waits: for wifi to connect, emails to push through, a friend to respond to an instant message, a lift to arrive, or web pages to load on your phone.
This, the researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory said, utilises those instances when a person would not otherwise be doing anything — a practice its developers call “wait-learning.”
They believe that it can also make us more productive overall, because these moments are when people are most likely to play phone games or check social media and get side-tracked for longer periods.
In addition, they are considering programming the apps “to remind users to practise mindfulness to avoid reaching for their phones in moments of impatience, boredom, or frustration”.
One participant said: “I didn’t feel like I was taking extra time out of my day to dedicate to learning words.”