It is the black hole of the digital age - the three minutes it can take for your computer to boot up.
Now the computer industry says it wants to give back some of those precious seconds. In coming months, the world's major PC makers plan to introduce a new generation of quick-start computers, spotting a marketing opportunity in society's short attention span.
"It's ridiculous to ask people to wait a couple of minutes," said Sergei Krupenin, executive director of marketing of DeviceVM, a company that makes a quick-boot program for PC makers. "People want instant-on."
Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo are rolling out machines that give people access to basic functions like e-mail and a Web browser in 30 seconds or less. Asus, a Taiwanese company that is the world's largest maker of the circuit boards at the center of every PC, has begun building faster-booting software into its entire product line.
Even Microsoft, whose bloated Windows software is often blamed for sluggish start times, has pledged to do its part in the next version of the operating system, saying on a company blog that "a very good system is one that boots in under 15 seconds."
Today only 35 percent of machines running the latest version of Windows, called Vista, boot in 30 seconds or less, the blog notes.
Apple Macintoshes tend to boot more quickly than comparable Windows machines but still feel glacially slow to most users.
There is nothing new about frustration with startup times. Yet it is a condition that the technology industry - with smartphones and other always-on gadgets - helped create, said Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California at Los Angeles. "Our brains have become impatient with the boot-up process," Small said. "We have been spoiled by the hand-held devices."
PC makers say the battle for boot-up bragging rights could resemble the auto industry's race to shave tenths of a second from the time it takes a car to go from 0 to 60 mph.