If you haven’t watched Back to the Future Part II, consider this a spoiler alert. As they attempt to return 1985, Marty McFly watches lightning strike the DeLorean. The DeLorean disappears with Doc Brown inside. Just then, Western Union arrives with a letter from Doc Brown. Doc instructed Western Union in 1885 to make the delivery at an exact time and location in 1955.
Something similar happened last week with a few differences. First, it involved text messages instead of a letter. Second, substitute anyone that uses text messaging for Marty and Doc. Finally, it was completely accidental and nowhere near as impressive as the movie. In fact, it just confused everyone.
Happy Valentines Day!?
In the early morning of November 7, some people received text messages that seemed completely out of the blue. “I sent you an email.” “Do you have plans tomorrow night?” “Happy Valentine’s Day!” The senders claimed they didn’t send them. The messages couldn’t be found in their recent conversations.
Some people recognized these messages as something they sent back on February 14. Why were they just now being delivered? In some cases, it made for really awkward conversations. Imagine receiving a Valentine’s message from your ex 9 months later.
What Actually Happened
This situation seemingly affected every network. Senders and recipients included both Apple and Android users. Networks blamed “third-party vendors” and “maintenance updates.” It turns out that a third-party vendor actually was the root of the entire problem.
Many network providers utilize a third-party service from Syniverse. According to Syniverse, their servers store undelivered text messages for 24 to 72 hours. If they can’t deliver the message, they delete the message content.
One of Syniverse’s servers failed on February 14, 2019, of all days. Apparently, 168,149 undelivered messages were stuck in that server’s delivery queue when it failed. On November 7, Syniverse reactivated that failed server. Unsurprisingly, the server happily resumed its duties and sent all 168,149 text messages. Oops.
Back to the Future?
Obviously, this fiasco wasn’t as cool as Doc Brown’s 1885 letter to Marty in 1955. However, 168,149 text messages still traveled through time and arrived in the future. Maybe, just maybe, one of these messages from the past breathed new life into an old conversation. If so, you might as well claim this was all part of a sophisticated plan, you sneaky time traveler. Happy Valentine’s Day.