Available Wi-Fi networks

When you open the Wi-Fi tab on your computer or phone in lower Manhattan, you get a long list of available Wi-Fi networks. Nearly all of those networks are private and password protected.

The fact that you can see them strikes me as vaguely odd. The whole system feels like a hold-over from an earlier technological age.

Imagine, as an analogy, if every time you went to a restaurant, the waiter brought you the menus of all nearby restaurants. Maybe this evening you and your date find yourselves at a nice little Italian bistro, and you are looking through all of the menus.

When the waiter arrives, you order the Chow Mein. “I’m sorry,” the waiter says, “but we don’t serve Chow Mein.”

“But then why is it on the menu?” you may well ask.

The waiter gives you a kindly but pitying look. “That’s not our menu. That’s the menu for Shanghai Cafe down the block.”

You are about to ask “Then why did you give me that other menu to look at?” when suddenly you notice that your date is staring at you, so you decide to hold your tongue. Clearly there is something here that you do not fully understand.

That’s sort of how I feel about that list of “available” Wi-Fi networks.

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