Wi-Fi facilitates a connection to the Internet that enables a person to interact with their friends, family, work colleagues, news and weather collectively the world over. I have decided to look into why people seek such a connection 24/7 and moreover, why so many places offer free Wi-Fi to help keep people connected. We seek it in cafes, restaurants, houses other than our own, public transport and hotels. Why is it that the home or workplace is not enough anymore? Do anxiety levels increase when a connection is lost? I personally experienced this anxiety when I arrived in my new home in Sweden in 2014. I had my first panic attack, purely because I was in a strange place and could not connect to anyone digitally. I felt completely isolated. I am sure people the world over would have similar alienating stories of such disconnect to the Internet. Therefore, I want to shift the attention from my own personal panic attack and instead I would like to focus on the one and only Taylor Squires and her experience of moving to Sweden.
Taylor is my beautiful Canadian travel partner, who travelled through the most part of Europe for seven months with me in 2014. Taylor is the most amazing Wi-Fi tracker you will ever find. In the middle of the Baltic Sea, Taylor found a connection to the world; Camping in Germany, she found Wi-Fi; On an overnight train in Poland, like come on, really? You found it? Our travel group always were amazed, we almost made her a t-shirt applauding her amazing talent. I interviewed Taylor to ask her why she felt like she needed to always find a connection when we were travelling. Her primary reasoning was the time differences between Canada and Europe. Taylor explained how she had a very small window of time to connect and interact with her boyfriend as well as her friends and family. I also asked her about anxiety levels when Wi-Fi was not an option; “I looked for Wi-Fi because the thought of not being able to text or receive messages from home made me feel anxious”.
In continuation from Taylor’s personal experiences of anxiety, it seems to be an interchangeable story for my generation (GEN Y). We feel a tremendous desire to remain connected to our online bubble. If disconnected for too long, we may miss out on ‘something’ important. When the Internet connection is not there, anxiety levels rise due to the perception of disconnect. This anxiety is not fuelled by an addiction. Mark Griffiths, professor at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom explains how device usage is now “habitual” and only 3% of Internet users are actually addicted (Warner, R 2014). Similarly, Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair reinforces how such a habit is a “big stressor” on our lives and explains how it can actually “amp up anxiety levels for senders and receivers alike” (Steiner-Adair, C. 2015). It is clear that Taylor and myself have similar feelings in regards to anxiety levels and disconnect whilst traveling. When you are traveling you feel separated from what is comfortable and normal for you. This is what makes travel so unpredictable and exciting.
Furthermore, it could be said that public premises understand the disconnect dilemma and implement free Wi-Fi as a way to draw in the public to spend money in the store. Whether you are on a boat, at a camping ground, a coffee shop, or a hotel, you can get your connection fix for free. In speaking with Taylor it was evident that she goes to premises that offer free Wi-Fi over those that do not. “I needed Internet so I would do whatever I could to find Wi-Fi (even if that meant standing outside of a McDonalds for twenty minutes at three o’clock in the morning). I always kept my eye out for a McDonalds so that I could use their Internet for a few minutes. Once you are inside a McDonalds of course you’re instantly tempted to buy something”. Wi-Fi in the developed world is something that organisations can use to further capitalize on, McDonalds being a leading example.
However it is not only developing nations that have access to Wi-Fi facilities. Facebook is in the process of helping Wi-Fi reach remote villages across rural India and Africa (Goelaug, V 2013). Mark Zuckerberg CEO of Facebook, addressed the United Nations in September at the Sustainable Development Summit promoting how the “Internet should not just belong to the rich or young, it needs to belong to everyone”(United Nations News Centre, 2015). A connection to media is important to people of all ages and technology companies are trying to make this a reality for all, no matter where they are situated.
Similarly, I researched some of the weird and wonderful Wi-Fi hotspots around the world. Perhaps the strangest place I have found that has a free Wi-Fi connection is Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest peak. ‘Officials are installing free Wi-Fi for all hikers as an in initiative designed to spur tourism on the iconic mountain’ (Plucinska, J 2015). It seems to me that Wi-Fi is globally spatial and that almost everyone who can get a connection to Wi-Fi, values the accessibility, even if it is not explicitly obvious to him or her. A Wi-Fi connection is habitual in nature hence the desire for 24/7 connection. The phone, tablet, iPod, computer are extensions of oneself, allowing for increased accessibility to the world. We all value the connection to Wi-Fi and for that reason we choose to be in premises that offer it. Wi-Fi is now a part of many organisations “service offering”(Kelly, N, & Williams, L 2007).
Internet connection has changed the world for the better in regards to things like education and health. Therefore, we need to focus on reducing anxiety levels when a connection is not available. We need to learn to control our technological habits and perhaps even separate the online world from the real world so they are in harmony and not conflicting. It is fantastic that so many organisations are now offering free Wi-Fi to the public. It enables people to connect to the Internet, who would otherwise not have had such accessibility. The mutual relationship between customers and organisations will continue to be strengthened thanks to free Wi-Fi. Likewise, relationships can remain strong the world over thanks to Wi-Fi connections.
Goelaug, V 2013, ‘Facebook Leads an Effort to Lower Barriers to Internet Access, New York Times, 20 August, 2013, viewed October 28, 2015 <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/technology/facebook-leads-an-effort-to-lower-barriers-to-internet-access.html?_r=0>
Kelly, N, & Williams, L 2007, ‘Free WiFi with fries’, Computing (13612972), p. 7, Computers & Applied Sciences Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 2 November 2015. < http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=070c075c-fa3a-4f4f-b752-1e45ff240930%40sessionmgr113&hid=114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=27963291&db=iih>
Plucinska, J 2015, ‘Mount Fuji, Japan’s Tallest Mountain, Will Soon Have WiFi’, Time.Com, p. N.PAG, Health Business Elite, EBSCOhost, viewed 25 October 2015. <http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/detail/detail?sid=6f652286-ae2f-4a9e-8d80-915a27f28b71@sessionmgr111&vid=5&hid=114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU=#AN=103710128&db=heh>
STEINER-ADAIR, C 2015, ‘THE BIG DISCONNECT’, Independent School, 74, 2, p. 34, MasterFILE Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 1 November 2015. <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=febd9cb8-033c-464f-9b55-b86a497d73b8@sessionmgr4004&hid=4110>
United Nations News Centre, 2015, ‘Mark Zuckerburg addresses the UN Sustainable Development Summit’ Facebook, viewed 25 October 2015. <https://www.facebook.com/UN.News.Centre/videos/10153252006166872/?__mref=message_bubble>
Warner, R, 2014, ‘Without WiFi, Life would end (aka Teen Internet Addiction), Huffington Post, 22 February, 2014, viewed 25 October2015 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russ-warner/without-wifi-life-would-e_b_5367578.html?ir=Australia>