‘No Wi-Fi’: The Real Sign of Our Times

I popped into a coffeeshop the other day to get my brain jump-started, and I saw a sign that stopped me cold: “No Wi-Fi.” That’s the history of the millennial era in two words: The day before yesterday there was no such thing as wireless Internet access. Then it became available, usually for a pretty stiff usage fee. (Remember the dark ages of having to rely on Boingo at the airport? Oh, wait . . . if you fly out of LaGuardia, you’re still in the dark ages. More about that in a minute.) Then wireless got so cheap that it became available as a courtesy in public spaces, and coffeeshops and the like began to offer it as a basic amenity, like restrooms or comfortable chairs. Up went the signs: “Free Wi-Fi.” Pretty soon, you could log on for free at McDonald’s while sucking down all 1,160 calories in your supersized shake. And then a funny thing happened: The “Free Wi-Fi” signs went away. The new sign was the invisible sign: “Of course we have wireless — what do you think this is, Waziristan?”

And now wireless Internet access has become so ubiquitous, so cheap, so convenient, that the odd establishment that for whatever economic or aesthetic reason declines to offer the amenity to its customers feels compelled to advertise the absence of what didn’t exist only a few years ago. It’s like a sign reading “No Public Restroom.”

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