When I hear that the hotel, library or the café I am going to has a free unlimited wifi, a tingling sensation goes through me. Oooooh. Free Wifi! However silly that may sound, it is surprising that a technology which is so immensely popular can still bring about a feeling. But why?
You would think that we got used to it now. The first laptops with Wifi (iBooks) came into existence more than a decade ago now. Wifi had spread like wildfire, mostly as a means to connect to the internet, appearing in libraries, stations, cafés and hotels. With time, more and more people started setting up wireless networks at home too, to connect to the internet but also to connect printers or sending movies to TV sets. It is everywhere!
But only a few weeks ago, when Steve Jobs presented Apple’s project for new offices in Cupertino to the City Council, an excited council member asked if they could get free wifi in exchange for their approval. They did not get it, the company considering it the job of the city to install free wifi if they wanted it, but it is humorous that the request pops up. Why does it still get people’s heart racing? People who want their emails and Google Maps on the go generally have smart-phones, which work just find without Wifi. Offices and homes with computers generally already have their own Wifi networks. So what good is wifi elsewhere really?
I do not think it is what it actually does is that important anymore. Wifi has become a feeling, just like climate control. Just the idea that I could open up my laptop and send an email, or look something up in wikipedia, or book a flight for our holiday makes me feel happy. It is the accessibility of the outside world right then and there. Of course the mobile phone can do a lot, and we are very impressed, but It is not the same thing. What makes Wifi so special, is that we are used to computers being on desks with a spaghetti of cables hanging out the back and with wifi we are receiving an email or a Facebook message right then and there, lying in the grass if we feel like it. It is still amazing.
Of course this should all have become a mobile thing, and it is, but it is the snags which keeps the shine on wifi. The mobile phone still has a stigma to it that we might get ripped off (because we crossed a border somewhere) or that it won’t work (too far out of town, there is no reception in the carpark, on that metro-line, or you are with Bouygues…). Wifi does not have that stigma (despite not being parachute solid), when it works it just works. Like the perfect temperature, it is all around us, and we can feel at home. Even if we do not use it.