The Times of London has a scare article about the coming collapse of the Internet:

Internet users face regular “brownouts” that will freeze their computers as capacity runs out in cyberspace, according to research to be published later this year.

Experts predict that consumer demand, already growing at 60 per cent a year, will start to exceed supply from as early as next year because of more people working online and the soaring popularity of bandwidth-hungry websites such as YouTube and services such as the BBC’s iPlayer.

It will initially lead to computers being disrupted and going offline for several minutes at a time. From 2012, however, PCs and laptops are likely to operate at a much reduced speed, rendering the internet an “unreliable toy”.

Pretty scary stuff!

Before I get too scared, though, they insist that I be confused:

While the net itself will ultimately survive, Ritter said that waves of disruption would begin to emerge next year, when computers would jitter and freeze. This would be followed by “brownouts” – a combination of temporary freezing and computers being reduced to a slow speed.

Computers are going to be reduced to slow speed? Like servers somewhere or my computer? I would assume that they mean my computer will be slow on the Internet. But freeze? Do connections “freeze”? Computers freeze. Software freezes. Connections? I don’t think I’ve really heard it put that way except for a YouTube video or something like that which pauses while waiting to move forward. That could be “freezing” I guess. Jitter? Again, we’re talking about connections here and not computers.

How bad is a jitter, though? I work for one of the highest tech companies in the world and I get that at work all the time. We survive. The people that are hit most by that sort of thing would be those doing things where jitters are most problematic. Videos. Songs. Stuff that they say is causing the problem, but the stuff that we can survive without. Part of the short term solution here would be better disconnection-handling. That’s something that needed to be done a long time ago. There is also a lot that can be done to throttle the unnecessary stuff or direct traffic (which I can’t deny I suspect is the motivation of the sky-falling fear merchants who want to be able to pocket more money for “everybody’s good”) before we have to worry that medical records and business communication will get blocked or lost in the shuffle.

“Today people know how home computers slow down when the kids get back from school and start playing games, but by 2012 that traffic jam could last all day long.”

Okay, that’s obviously more of a concern. But computers don’t slow down when kids get back from school. The internet “slows down”, but computers do not. At least now I think I better understand a couple paragraphs ago, but can the writer of this article be so daft as to not be able to differentiate between the speed and reliability with which a computer connects to the Internet and the speed and reliability between which a computer does every other thing a computer does? When did computers become identified solely by their ability to connect to the Internet? I mean, am I being super anal here? It makes me think of a former receptionist at a job I had who would scare me half to death by saying “The such-and-such folder got deleted” when she meant “I closed it and can’t remember where the icon was.”

Engineers are already preparing for the worst. While some are planning a lightning-fast parallel network called “the grid”, others are building “caches”, private computer stations where popular entertainments are stored on local PCs rather than sent through the global backbone.

People are building private computer stations where they are storing media locally? OH MY F*ING GAWD! Whoever heard of such a thing! That’s like collecting guns and canned beans and heading for the bunker! That’s madness! Before you know it people will start creating some sort of download service where they can suspiciously keep files stored locally so they don’t need the internet to retrieve them! This is surely proof that everyone is terrified of the coming apocalypse!

Seriously, does this writer know anything about anything relevant to this article? It feels like it was written by a fourth grader with no relevant experience who is trying to remember how Dad explained it to him.

I guess maybe it’s partially a terminology thing. Maybe in Britain they say “computer” when they mean “connection”. But even that’s a little odd because Ritter, who is quoted in the line about kids coming home from school, was at least educated in the United States.

What’s a little bit funny about this, I guess, is that back before the Internet when I used to meet people on the BBSes, the word “online” (as in “we met online”) wasn’t in wide use. We would usually say something like “We met on the computer.” The difference between then and now, though, is that the words to describe this exist. I can guarantee you there are some nitwits reading this article thinking that the Internet is going to reach out and give their computer the jitters.


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6 Responses to Jittering Exabytes

  1. Peter says:

    Reading this brings back memories of the Y2K panty piddling paranoia. Airplanes falling from the sky, electricity failing, all that fun stuff. And we all survived that “catastrophe.”

  2. Barry says:

    You can always choose to discount out of hand the whole premise. Just because one guy says the sky is falling doesn’t mean it’s even loose or coming unbolted.

    We’ve seen the past few days that Chicken Littling only serves the worst case scenarios – sure, maybe the Internet will “brown out”. If Aliens come and load all their home movies onto YouTube, if the government decides to suddenly re-upload the Library of Congress to redundant datbases around the world 24/7/365, and if all the world’s moles and gophers dig up the underground data cables.

  3. Brandon Berg says:

    The obvious solution is tiered service and/or metering. So obvious, in fact, that I kind of suspect that the studies were funded by ISPs.

    When did computers become identified solely by their ability to connect to the Internet?

    For many (most?) people who started using computers in the last several years, they’ve always been defined by their ability to access the Internet.

  4. trumwill says:

    Brandon,

    Yeah, it does come across to me as a sort of “This is why we need to crack down on bandwidth ‘hogs'” or “Herein lies the threat of Net Neutrality,” doesn’t it?

    For many (most?) people who started using computers in the last several years, they’ve always been defined by their ability to access the Internet.

    Really? I’d figure that to become the case if/when the applications we run are mostly web-based, but I figure now that people do enough work on Microsoft Office, image editing, and work-related stuff that people would continue to make that distinction. Maybe I’m hopelessly out of touch in my old age.

  5. trumwill says:

    Barry,

    It could well be that we will see some problems in the future with the Internet becoming overloaded. The problem is that the article acts like it’s going to be another Y2K (good comparison, Peter) rather than something that can be addressed pretty straightforwardly. I’m less afraid of the Internet becoming useless than I am fears of it becoming useless being used as a basis for justifying large corporations from extracting more money out of us.

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    Will:
    Maybe you’re right, but there’s a sizeable minority who only use computers for browsing the web and reading e-mail.

    For what it’s worth, I have a copy of Office that I never bothered installing onto the new computer I built over a year ago. I did install OpenOffice, which I almost never use except for Calc, and that’s to view spreadsheets I download from the Web. When my Internet connection is down, I pretty much stop using my computer.

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