Where it used to be hard to find a WiFi network, these days it’s hard to find only one. If you live in an apartment building, you may spot dozens of networks. And thanks to malicious jerks around the world, most of them are closed, locked down, unavailable. This is pretty strongly advisable, yet slightly disappointing from a community angle, and often-times very frustrating from a “gotta get online to send this email” perspective.
My first piece of wishful thinking is having router manufacturers enable an “emergency mode” triggered by natural disasters or other major emergencies. I’ll say up front I have no idea who is responsible for triggering this switch, but let’s assume local governments could determine such a method (just don’t have it over to FEMA, they apparently rarely know when or where emergencies occur). When routers receive the “emergency signal” they provide open access to the Internet.
While I may be oversimplifying the technology impact and there’d obviously be some security implications, the purpose here is to give people an easy way to share and receive vital information. The phone lines and cell signals may be overwhelmed with traffic, but assuming either phone or cable services are available, people with Internet-enabled mobile devices and laptops would all be able to rapidly reach out. We could share updates, find safe havens, etc, all with simple Internet connectivity.
I don’t exactly know what it would take to make this happen. My hunch is it simply won’t. But when I see 23 hotspots in my surrounding region and know full well that a stranger couldn’t use a single one of them in time of need, it makes me ponder how we can better use technology to improve our community.