One complaint about the modern world is that there is a severe lack of jetpacks, with such jetpack-lessness often being quoted as an example of how little the world has changed or science and technology has lived up to its promises. Sometimes, however, I am shocked at how much the technology has changed, and how quickly it has become embedded in our lives.
This was most noticeable last week when, during a Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group lunch in a local cafe, I decided to Skype a Finnish colleague.
With the cafe offering free wi-fi, and the Eee PC being ever present in my bag, it was possible for Kim to virtually join us for free. It no longer requires top of the range technology, and even a place like Wolverhampton has free wi-fi appearing all over the place (I can think of about 6 off the top of my head).
The Google logo informs me that it is Alexander Graham Bell’s birthday today (maybe they listened to my logo suggestions), but the world has changed a lot since he made his first call.
It is being widely reported that the UK government is considering requiring internet service providers to take action against people illegalling downloading music and films: email warning, suspension,and then termination of contract. Personally I welcome the move, although I have some reservations about the effect it will have on legal internet activity. The illegal downloading of films is a problem, and potentially a bigger problem than the illegal downloading of music. Whilst music can be produced relatively cheaply by amateurs, the rubbish on YouTube is not going to be making Hollywood quality movies any time soon.
The problem that is most often identified with such legislation is that of ‘piggybacking’, someoneelse using an open wi-fi connection. Whilst this can most often be sorted out by password protecting your wi-fi, some of the systems are not very good and can be easily hacked. The ISPs should have a duty to provide secure wireless encryption before they can suspend or teminate a contract. If they supply a secure system, then we can be expected to utilise it.
I am more concerned about the effect it will have on public wi-fi zones. Those coffee houses and pubs that make wi-fi freely available. Unless such places are excluded from any new laws, any legislation could hold back the growing adoption of certain mobile technologies.
So, if ISPs provide secure wireless encryption and the public wi-fi spots are excluded, I broadly welcome any legislation. It will also force parents to take more interest in what their children are up to online. Whatever they may say, they are rarely doing their homework.
Whilst laptops allow you to work on the move in numerous different locations, not all laptops are created equal, and whilst the RM minibook (aka the Eee PC) allows for the most mobile of movement, it doesn’t have the greatest battery (just two or three hours). So once my battery is dead, or on its way out, can I syphon off electricity from the premises I am in? Rather than a one rule fits all situation, it seems to depend on numerous different factors: the role of the premises; whether it offers wifi; whether the wifi is free; and whether the plugs are easily accessible.
Whilst certain public institutions such as some public and university libraries actively make plugs easily accessible, thus encouraging laptop use, others have made no such accommodation, just having one or two scattered around the walls as if the laptop revolution had never occurred. But what about those places where they are aware of users laptop needs, where they advertise their wifi access as a selling point? If I am paying to access wifi in Starbucks can I plug-in? But what about if I am in one of the increasing number of places that offer free wifi? Do I have the same rights?
As always rights come with responsibilities, and laptop users have a responsibility to not cause accidents by trailing cables across gangways or play video or music without headphones, but do we always have to ask about our rights or can some be assumed?
In a climate where more and more places are offering free wifi, actively advertising the fact that the institution doesn’t mind you using their plugs would be enough to persuade me to use one place over another. I would love to know if there had been some sort of survey of attitudes to electricity use.