Joining the program to talk about this rather unusual, but relevant subject, is Michael Gibson, a Creative Director and Advertising Consultant, based in Moscow.
The first topic of the program is so-called: ‘queuing freedom', something Michael says he came across when he first came to Russia in the early 1990s. "Russia really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about queuing, because I was used to that very rigid English way that queues are meant to be, and woe betide anybody who should get ideas above his station and try to do anything unusual. So, it was after looking into this I discovered interesting things like the fact that queues have not one end but two: the express end which is at the front, and the philosophical end which is at the back."
This leads Michael on to talking about ‘queue optimization', "queues themselves have lots of holes and gaps in them, and are full of inherent inefficiencies. There are lots of opportunities for quick thinking entrepreneurial optimizers, and in optimizing queues they not only help their own positions [in a queue] but also help the positions of everyone behind them."
In this context, Michael gives the example of how the first ISDN modem changed the way we queued to get online. One could only get online using copper telephone lines; you could either speak or be online, one or the other. ISDN modems changed all of that as they allowed internet users to be both online, and on the phone, by utilizing the gaps and holes between speech to transmit packages of data. "It is a very clever gadget which basically queue optimized copper wire," Michael says.
Michael gives various examples, including that of the Titanic to illustrate how traditional queuing can go very wrong, and be totally inefficient. "The fact of the matter is that in the morning after they found the lifeboats, they counted the number of empty places in them. Having more lifeboats might not have saved more lives. Part of the problem was the way they were loaded, but there was also the gallant notion of waiting in line. People were queueing up to get into the lifeboats, and who was at the front of the queues?, women and children, who were the least able to actually get into the boats. What is interesting is that there were 1,000 children onboard and 50% of them died anyway. So actually, being at the front of the queue didn't even help them anyway. So obviously, this idea that people should wait their turn in line at the back is perhaps defective. All the men at the back who jumped the queue were in many cases ostracized, lynched, there were stories of people who were shot, it got quite violent. And yet the lifeboats went away with 470 empty places….We need to think of queue optimization, of how to move masses of people more effectively."
"Then there is the case of the American Airlines 1549 which ditched in the Hudson River. The pilot lost both of his engines, and famously landed in the river. But having survived the crash landing you then have to survive the sinking. No one lost their lives, which is a phenomenal credit to the captain and all the people who were involved. One of the things that he did that was very smart is he went down the plane and just said to everybody: get off as quickly as possible. He said to some guys who would normally be told to get to the back of the queue: you get off and take someone with you who is old or infirm. He had a disabled person on board, so he was carried off the sinking plane by young guys….That's what queue optimization can do."
In a discussion about the nature of queues, Michael says: "One of the problems with queues is that you don't always look around you and see what resources are available. The queue is a safe place to be, you go in and you sit at the back and you don't have to think. You mind your own business….If we talk about bigger things, like the resources of the planet, maybe we need to rethink that, because waiting in line might not work."
Traditional queuing, it seems, is already a thing of the past in the information highway, in which trillions of megabytes find their way to and from servers by bypassing blockages. Technology may be leading towards change and highlighting ways forward.
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