“My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fullfilled, but to get out.” - King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, c. 1930
Boy, if that was true back in 1930 then I’ll venture to say that in the almost 80 years since then they must’ve been working tirelessly to perfect their finely honed objective in Saudi Arabia…
Protectionism. What an ugly word. It strikes a tone of anxiety in a song of fear, conjuring images of caged rats, each lashing out individually in frightful fits, ultimately helpless when pitted against a striking viper. A pointless endeavor, especially in the world of the 21st century, where connection is everything and everything is connected. In today’s world, a state and a people left to grow only from within will develop as well as a Star Trek geek playing World of Warcraft in his mother’s basement.
We’ve gone too far with our urges for interconnectedness to slam on the brakes now. As the world becomes more mobile and global, access will be paramount to development and obstacles to connectivity should not be tolerated. It’s disturbing then, to see that so many travel hubs like hotels and airports still try to charge complicated fees for internet access.
It used to be that you could tell how much a person travels for work by their mileage accounts, or their hotel points, or if all else failed, the wrinkles and bags under their red, sloppy eyes. However, you can now tell who’s been around by looking at the list of wireless networks to which one has connected, or attempted to connect.
And if wireless connections were whores at port, I’d be a goddamn sailor.
And speaking of whores, let me get to the point of this little rant. Even as times are changing, outdated notions of a quick profit are being attempted in the spirit of capitalism and Adam Smith’s fucking invisible hand.
There was a time not too long ago that in order to compete for the business of business, hotels offered their corporate guests free internet connections with either a DSL line in the room or in some cases even a direct T1 line. But you’d be connected – on the grid, as it were. You know — in the parlance of our times.
But then came T-Mobile. And Swisscom. And, fucking, Joe’s corner WiFi, or whatever. Like a wildfire it spread. Today, in hotels across Europe and North America you can get a whole box of exotic teas, coffees, water bottles, towels and even a nice desk set, if you pack efficiently. Just for checking in. I’m not advocating theft of hotel property, you understand — I’m just saying it’s an easy option.
But you can’t get free internet.
Which is weird. You can get it in hostels. You can get it at bed & breakfasts. You can get it at mom & pop cafes, though not at places like Starbuck’s. And of course, god bless the few and the proud who still keep their wireless signals open and blissfully unencrypted to those wandering on the streets, unafraid to check for good souls.
Obviously there is a dollar to be made by letting a single company have exclusive ownership of your wireless real-estate. But there’s something about free WiFi that can keep people lounging in a place indefinitely and I’m not sure why these large hotels and café chains aren’t on board with the concept yet. It’s the reason why I can sit in a dingy, grimy dark pub in London that smells of greasy sausages and spilt ale and have breakfast, lunch and tea while I work. It’s also why no matter how nice the scene from a café on the Zürich waterfront, if they’re going to charge me 80 CHF for the day, I’ll be moving on, thanks.
I’m not normally optimisitic for the future, but in this economy, I can’t help but hope that there will be massive investments into infrastructure, like there were in the 30’s after the Great Depression. They built highways and bridges and I hope that in a way, so will we. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to the current internet infrastructure and we are due for a a revamp of the hard lines if we are going to advance in this endeavor. Otherwise we’ll be stuck with Al Gore’s invention and Orin Hatche’s tubes for another few decades.