Alan Dee: Time to log off to prevent a potential logjam

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IT won’t surprise any regular readers to know that on Saturday night I steered well clear of Hogmanay hooligans and was tucked up in bed long before Big Ben tolled. After all, if you can’t be a killjoy on New Year’s Eve then when can you?

As drunken conga lines up and down the country slurred Auld Lang Syne and exchanged celebratory snogs, I was in the land of Nod safe in the knowledge that I hadn’t given in to the pressure to go out to some desperate party, fund a taxi driver’s Spanish villa for another year just to get back home, and that there would be no horrible hangover waiting to pounce when I opened my eyes to set out on 2012’s primrose path.

But apparently I wasn’t just indulging my highly-developed party pooping skills – I was performing a social service.

How? By doing absolutely nothing. No, don’t mention it...

In the days when I was persuaded by social pressure to haul my reluctant bones to a New Year bash, it used to be enough to just give every member of the opposite sex in the room a hug and a peck on the cheek, mumble best wishes for the 12 months ahead, and then start looking around for your coat.

That all began to change with mobile phones and text messaging – those of you with long memories may recall that on Millennium Night back at the dawn of 2000 it was suddenly necessary to send a new year message to everyone in your contacts file.

What happens when there is a stampede into a restricted space? It’s never pretty – and at least all that happened was the system crashed, not because of the over-hyped Millennium Bug but because millions of people all wanted to say hello at the same time.

It’s what some people call the M25 effect – on the face of it, it’s a giant thoroughfare that should be able to cope with everything we can throw at it.

But come rush hour, it can’t handle the demand – and that’s what’s starting to happen online, too.

You may not have heard, but social network site Twitter ground to a halt as it was overloaded with New Year messages.

In Britain the site was out of action for more than an hour on Saturday – the breakdown blamed on Japanese revellers sending a record 16,197 tweets per second. Yes, per second.

The site stuttered throughout the day, and all apparently because millions of people all wanted to say something fatuous that hardly anyone else would every read, and at the same time.

Just as it seems to be taking a long time for people to realise that when they stick pictures of their Bangkok stag night on Facebook there’s a chance that a potential employer will check it out a couple of years down the line, there’s also very little awareness of the fact that the internet, just like the M25, is a highway that can easily become overloaded.

But there are lots of important things that depend on it these days – health, transport, emergency communication, the list is endless.

Now let’s go back to that M25 analogy again. You know how when you’re stuck in an unexplained traffic jam and a fire engine or ambulance comes up behind and desperately tries to squeeze through, blue lights flashing, but it seems almost impossible because you insisted on taking the car for a quick trip to the shops because you were bored?

That’s what’s looming on the internet if we don’t all get used to the idea that it can get full, and freeze.

And if you can’t get your head round that, I’ll stick it on Twitter later. When it’s a bit quieter...