What if you used other people to connect instead of Verizon or AT&T?

Molly Wood Jul 5, 2012

What if you used other people to connect instead of Verizon or AT&T?

Molly Wood Jul 5, 2012

When you’re running around town and want to check email on your smartphone, you connect to a data network through a nearby tower run by your carrier.

What if we connected with each other instead? My phone was your tower, your phone was someone else’s?

That’s the idea of mesh networks. It’s been tried in other parts of the world but never on a wide scale in the U.S. At least not yet.

Jonathan Zittrain is co-founder of Harvard’s Center for Internet and Society. Our phones, he says, are basically two-way radios.

Jonathan Zittrain: What if we could use those radios to talk to one another, and kind of like the way you pass beer at a Red Sox game, across the row from one person to another, we could get data moved that way too.

Moe: I see this as kind of working in a tight, urban environment, where there’s lots of signals and it wouldn’t be hard to connect from one to another. Does it work better there, or does it work better in a rural area where people are more like antennae?

Zittrain: Most mesh networking implementations work better the more people there are the nearer to one another. And that can be where there is a lot of congestion. Everybody tries to make a phone call after there is a home run at that Red Sox game, and now nobody can because the network is overloaded. A mesh network would say, in theory, wow, all of those people together can communicate through one another and actually make a more robust network than if they were in the field of dreams, and no one else was around.

Zittrain doesn’t see mesh networking making Verizon or AT&T obsolete but in some scenarios, it could come in handy.

Zittrain: If a tsunami should come through or a hurricane or some kind of attack, and the usual networks are down – you can’t get a cell signal or you can’t get broadband anymore the usual ways, we still all have our two-way radios.

Moe: So how do we use them in that scenario?

Zittrain: Suppose your phone had a copy of your Facebook credentials on it. And if trouble comes through, and there’s no easy way to communicate, you either have a brick in your hand – it’s just useless, or you can talk to other people near you, who in turn – their phone can talk to other phones  near them, and you get this sort of local net going. And then you say, “are any of my Facebook friends nearby?” You could see that as being very useful in times of trouble – to communicate and to locate people who want help.

He says mesh networking may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when we said the same thing about Skype or voice calls over the Internet.


We don’t really have stockades or scarlet letters in our society but there’s still plenty of public shaming online.

WeKnowWhatYoureDoing.com is a site that says its dedicated to urging people to not make their Facebook updates public. This is done by displaying public posts in categories like Who Wants To Get Fired, complete with the names of the boneheaded posters:

New tv and i gota wait a week 2 watch it i hate my boss!

And Who’s Hungover?

I am quite hungover!! … But what an awesome night

Then there’s the Who’s Taking Drugs category?

Smoke W.E.E.D. Everyday !

Over on Twitter, you can find the @NeedADebitCard account, retweeting photos people have taken of their debit or credit cards, complete with numbers and name and expiration. Tweets like:

My credit card came in the mail today! Hooray!


My debit card is too legit to quit


Finally got to renew my debit card

I don’t know if public shaming can change behavior. Especially because if you’re oblivious enough to make these things public, are you aware enough to fix the problem?

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