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Although the internet as we know it today has only been readily accessible for roughly less than a decade, it seems as if the debate for or against its use in public has been going on for centuries. Walking past a cafe in Delnicka perched between two tram stops, I see a notice that says “We don’t have free Wi-Fi. Pretend that it’s 1996, talk to each other, enjoy your coffee.” Despite its good intentions, I can’t help but frown at the sign scribbled in white chalk on its well-loved blackboard; don’t they know that mobile data is capable of surpassing their “rules” instantaneously? Establishments that place a ban on free wi-fi do it for the sake of exclusivity, and that trendy “hipster” appeal– you can bet that behind the counter, employees have their hands dipped where customers cannot see them, furiously tapping away on their own phones before someone approaches the counter. Entering the online realm gives us the superpower of omniscience, so isn’t it obvious that people want it in the palms of their hands indefinitely?

New York City has recently begun the implementation of Free Wi-fi kiosks scattered across the five boroughs. Though they were meant to replace telephone booths and provide passersby’s with a method of checking maps or charging their phones, the New York Times reports that the contraptions have attracted less desirable audiences, including those that use the machines to watch pornography.

The internet has become less of a pastime and more of a tool in recent years; from being able to connect with friends, family, and even professionals through the use of social media, to the ability to avoid getting lost in unfamiliar places by using applications such as Google Maps or built-in GPS’. If your phone is connected to the internet, certain applications downloaded onto it can even help you track where your phone is in the event that it gets lost or stolen. But what happens to the data providers such as AT&T or Vodafone that are currently living off of monthly subscribers or plan users? Can we completely trust in the appeal of phone calls and texting when most people own smartphones and have access to applications such as WhatsApp or LINE to stay in contact? Though it is arguable that many businesses can be affected negatively by the increased availability of the internet in public spaces, it is undeniable that having 24/7 access to the web is beneficial to the quality of life of most active cellphone users, especially considering the nature of the most commonly used smartphone applications nowadays– most of which are social media sites such as Facebook.

facebook-390860_1280.jpgFacebook & Facebook Messenger are in the top 10 most downloaded mobile apps on the Apple Store– both require internet access for use | Photo credit: Pixabay

However, the topic of web security becomes present when considering the use of private social media sites on such public networks. Accessing password-locked domains on an open Wi-Fi port–such as the ones being established in New York– can make the user highly vulnerable to attacks that may compromise their control over their own social media, and perhaps even their bank accounts, depending on what applications they have linked to their profiles. So where should we stand in this situation? Surely the ability to access the internet publicly would make the lives of some users easier, but those who may already be registered to phone plans may be less keen on taking ahold of the opportunity, considering the fact that they already have their own methods of getting online. Those who don’t rely on the internet while on-the-go may even be turned off from the idea altogether, preferring to use the networks available to them at either their homes or their work-places– networks which are, perhaps, also more secure than those open to the public. In the end, whether or not you choose to accept and use public internet is up to the user, though if cities and governments are choosing to make wi-fi available on a wider scale, it is valuable to inform the public of user guidelines and personal security.

I walk past the cafe that has banned wi-fi, opting for a place closer to campus for my morning coffee. I don’t have anything against those fighting against the binary beast called the internet, but my phone is telling me that if I don’t get on the next tram, I’ll be late to class. Nothing is good for everything; in a similar way, the internet can’t be there to save us from daily  mishaps all the time– but when it can, you can do great things. It is always important to remember that “with great power, comes great responsibility”; maybe New York City needs to learn a little more about that before it can be proud of this new service.

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