In his 1964 hit The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan already warned us about the shifting nature of things, and how
the present now will later be past.”
Quite true: Just a few years ago, the first thing most of us did when entering a coffee shop, hotel, restaurant, bookshop -or any other public venue- was to look for the sign that said Free WiFi. Furthermore, if that sign was not to be seen, we would ask the bartender, server or sales clerk, and would be disappointed (to put it nicely) if that service was not offered.
If available, we would then look for the SSID in our network configurations and enter the password to log on and start surfing the web, checking our email or working on our latest project -without giving much thought to issues such as privacy, safety or adequacy.
After all, connectivity was considered to be just another basic human right, belonging at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Interestingly enough, many of us didn’t think about the cost (to the business) of providing this service (to the user): We just expected, demanded even, that those venues offer Free WiFi to all their patrons (or passersby, for that matter).
Funny, though, we did not expect, much less demand, that other basic human rights (such as food and shelter) be provided for free. But connectivity seemed to be different, for some reason, and all of a sudden something we could not do without -more important even than a clean toilet, napkins or air conditioning.
That was then and this is now: Now I don’t look for that Free WiFi sign any more. In fact, I don’t care if that service is available, unless it’s a long stay (such as a vacation in an Airbnb apartment). Furthermore, even if the service is clearly available, well advertised, I don’t make use of it any more. I just do not log on to public WiFi networks any more.
Why? Because it’s simply not worth it any more, for two main reasons:
- there are too many security risks involved in the use of public WiFi networks, from malicious hotspots to snooping to unencrypted connections
- 4G networks offer speeds equivalent to or higher than those offered by public WiFi networks and data plans that are (in practice, at least in my case) unlimited
In that context, I just don’t find any reasons to hassle with SSIDs and passwords, logging on to and then forgetting networks: I just trust my own data plan and go on with my life. And I don’t seem to be the only one that sees it that way -even if for very different reasons: A growing number of cafes are ditching wifi and outlawing computers.
But, as I say, probably for different reasons:
- Free WiFi is costing them revenue as a result of laptoppers spending too much time and too little money taking up tables
- mental effort is contagious: If you plonk yourself down next to someone who is toiling you have a tendency to imitate that behavior
In other words, the owners of many venues (especially coffee shops) were witnessing how their businesses were changing from the hospitality field to the co-working space arena. Not their intention, of course. So many are not offering Free WiFi anymore, in an effort to reclaim the art of hospitality and re-create a more fun, more interactive atmosphere.
Of course, not everybody is happy: Some customers (still) get annoyed, but many others appreciate and support the change. In any case, there is enough room to accommodate everyone (businesses and customers), so you will continue to find Free WiFi signs for quite some time. Just in case, though, get prepared for more and more signs that read:
No WiFi. Just talk to each other.”