New Ways to Get on the Web, Before
Implanting Anything Under Your Skin
The dream of 24/7 connection is already here, and it often feels like a nightmare. The thought of being permanently hooked up to the Internet used to have the same allure that the future once had. But as your online avatar becomes more dissociated from you, getting sold and traded many times over, you agonize it’s revealing stuff about your life you wouldn’t dare sharing with your own cat.
In the meantime, of course, we just want to get on, connect, reach out, have followers, all that silly stuff that pass for living these days. For that, the search for a Hot Spot has become as part of your day as walking your dog and sipping coffee. You should be so lucky to live just long enough to see three potential new ways making such a search a bit easier, cheaper and more private.
Some brilliant minds have been deeply invested into finding better ways to hitch a hike on what used to be called the information highway, remember? (gosh, we are old). Feels more like a tsunami now, going on right outside your body and taking people and debris to places they wouldn’t have chosen to go, given a choice. You do, but how?
Short of having that now proverbial chip implanted on the skin of your forearm, or signing up for wireless phone coverage, or even shamelessly stealing from your nice neighbor down the hall, research is the one thing going places about that. We are biased toward human ingenuity, so when a few years back, someone came up with a wind-up device to power computers in Africa, for example, we were in awe.
What these three following ideas to access the Internet have in common is a combination of daring thought with technological savvy and a lot of optimism that things will continue to evolve the way they’ve been in the past, say, fifteen minutes. Which, in itself, is a form of daredevil thinking, and a statement in favor of remaining helpful toward the future. Good luck to them with all of that.
Before we dive in, let’s once again profess our faith and commitment to support free universal access to the Internet for everyone, regardless their, well, regardless, period. Now, with this little piece of populist housekeeping out of the way, let’s hit the spot and see if we can steal, er, if we can get renewed access to your kind attention for just a little longer.
A company in Spain has come up with an interesting outdoor ‘exchange’ counter, perfect for public parks and walkaways: bring some fresh, smelly, nose-averting poo produced by your dog, and get some free Internet access for a few minutes. The plan, once implemented, is to also give biodegradable bags (and perhaps hand sanitizers?) to dog walkers, to streamline the free service.
The Poo-Wifi machine doesn’t actually recycle the organic matter into some kind of fuel to power a Web-accessing device. It rather just weights the bag and gives out the equivalent in minutes, though some kind of calculation. And then, while park-benchers enjoy their surfing, it takes all that ‘currency’ to a recycling center.
Using dog excrement to power street lights, for example, has been successfully tried a few times in cities across the U.S., the latest of which is Phoenix. Since such technology seems to be cost-efficient, we wonder why it hasn’t been adopted yet by city governments. Oh, that’s right, the budget is being drained by the local police departments in their efforts to eradicate free speech. Well well.
WATCH YOUR STEP
Another great thing about the Poo-Wifi is that it effectively helps to diminish that most unpleasant of the urban experience: stepping on ‘something’. Well, the next technology asks you just that, without fear, even though it can’t guarantee that it’ll also prevent a dog from getting there before you and relieve himself.
The iPavement is a square tile made with calcium carbonate by yet another Spanish company, and it’s designed to be used as such in every way. Except that it has one important distinction: it’s outfitted with a 5GB microprocessor that can support both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, plus a set of apps, that may help you navigate through the local mall or search for a place to eat.
It’s a kind of literal, physical representation of what a Hot Spot is supposed to be: a space where you can step right in to the Internet. What it loses in the ability of being shareable, it gains in the compact and mobile capability; there’s no need to create a whole path, in order to grant Internet access to people, just a few tiles would do.
It may be just the beginning of a full line of Internet-friendly construction materials. It’s not hard to imagine where we’ll go from there, but besides helping doing away with those eyesore ‘horned’ antennas you see everywhere, it will still need some kind of encryption to be built in to assure privacy for its users.
Can you imagine the Google truck, for example, following you around and taking electronic notes of your whereabouts? Oh, it already does that? Never mind, then.
THE LED LI-FI
Of all these options, the one with the greatest potential to become a household name has been created by German physicist Harald Haas: sending data through a LED light bulb. If it reaches the development phase, it’ll redefine much more than the way we access the Internet today; starting by the speed through which we access it, which would be accelerated by many hundreds of megabits.
It has the potential to allow us to download movies, videos and games from the lamps in our homes, read maps from streetlights and power the music we listen to from the lit billboards and light displays that flood our urban experience. With the crucial plus of preventing snooping from unauthorized sources, since light will be blocked by the walls, however thin, of our dwellings.
Intrinsically, Haas’s invention has a huge advantage over any other system, since infrastructure needed is already built and in place, right where we need it. Also, optical technology has a very suitable characteristic for data transmission: light-emitting diodes switch on and off faster than we can see, just like the binary code used in our familiar digital devices.
So, wherever there’s light, there’s a potential to convert it into a medium of communication. Among the many positive implications of this invention is the fact that, unlike the electromagnetic waves used in our gadgets, light has been used for centuries without any noticeable adverse health effect. There are, however, shortcomings from the technology.
Issues concerning the light fluctuation, which may interrupt transmission, and the need to outfit common LED light bulbs with adapters, have been invoked. Plus, there’s a lot of foot-dragging from the part of the mobile industry, which is interested not so much in innovation, but into keep cranking up the current technology that’s already selling millions of devices.
LIGHT & LOW LIFE
And the competition is fierce too. As usual, few had thought about the potential of visible light to transmit data, but once that’s been shown to be effective, there’s a race going on among companies developing variations or alternative systems to what Haas’s invented. We don’t complain and may the best win, which is not always the case (Beta vs VHS, anyone?).
But just as evolution moves forward in leaps, luck and homemade impromptus, tapping cheap sources of light (what’s next, solar power? hey, that’s just a great idea) may be a stepstone for future innovation. We’re all for it, of course. Specially if it’ll serve to take away some of the power that Internet providers seem so ready to impose over us. It’d better happen before they gather enough nerve to charge for access. Oh, they already do it. Sorry.
About our own usage, heaven knows we never meant to steal the Wi-Fi connection from our friendly neighbor. Seriously, we felt terrible when they took her in cuffs, for violating the terms of her agreement with the phone company. We meant to say something, but didn’t. Instead, once it was clear she was not coming back, we moved into her apartment. You should have seen what she’s done with the place.