Friday, August 5, 2011

On connectivity and homelessness.


A lot has been said about how indispensable the Internet has become in our daily lives, but I feel like we can't  rant enough about the difficulty of actually getting access. A friend once likened the feeling of not having a ready AND stable connection to the feeling of being homeless, and I found myself immediately nodding in agreement.

We certainly didn't mean to trivialize the idea of homelessnes nor have we ever literally experienced it [well, at least not for long periods of time], but I think it's a fairly important concern for people: (a) who have to pay for connectivity out of their own pockets; and (b) who depend on connectivity to a certain extent to make a living.

Back when I didn't earn enough to get my own postpaid connection, I was frequently exasperated with the choices I had. I happen to live in an necessarily student-friendly area that's got fast-food joints, coffee shops, restaurants and the like lined up one after another, but finding a nice, affordable place with a reliable Wi-Fi service can be a bit tricky. The perfect establishment would:
  • provide free Wi-Fi at a fairly reliable speed
  • have electrical outlets that can be used free of charge
  • serve good food/coffee/drinks (optional but preferred)
  • be open 24/7 (optional)
Within this area I live in, half the establishments where customers may be reasonably expected to stay a while still haven't gotten around to providing Wi-Fi. The establishments that do provide Wi-Fi, on the other hand, either intentionally or not, happen to have systems set up so that connectivity is in effect limited. A person looking for Wi-Fi in this area may face the following problems:
  • Wi-Fi that's not free. Ranging from a customer's getting a free hour with a certain type of purchase to having to charge the customer what I feel are exorbitant amounts to get connected.
  • Having only two to three electrical outlets.
  • Poor connection. Bandwidth issues, faulty routers or just slow connections to begin with.
  • Network security keys. Well, okay, security keys are more of an inconvenience than an actual hindrance, especially when the establishment has resorted to changing keys everyday.
We are aware that a variety of factors come into play when it comes to providing satisfactory Wi-Fi service (and that I've excluded internet cafes from the discussion), but I think the ranting can be justified by the existence of a few gems that actually have reliable connectivity. There's this burger place in the area that's got one outlet for practically each table and has a fast connection - at least when I used to set up camp and spend hours there to work or study. The downside was they closed at 11:00 pm, which meant that I had to find somewhere else that had Wi-Fi so I could continue working/studying. I obviously couldn't go to that one place every time I needed to get connected, so everyday I had this feeling of uncertainty about where I should go or whether I was going to get anything done.

And that uncertainty was probably the aspect of "homelessness" I was particularly relating to when I was nodding in agreement with the metaphor.


#7 - Somayyah Abdullah
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