Wifi Withdrawal Can Be Scary

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Have you noticed lately that your quest to stay connected is leading to strange behavior? Are you spending more time and more and more time at Starbucks without buying any coffee? Has the public library become your home away from home, even though you rarely open a book? Do you find yourself lingering at airports long after your flight has landed to get your wifi fix?

If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing the symptoms of wifi withdrawal. But you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Wifi enabled devices have created a communications revolution. Young Americans on the go are increasingly living more of their lives online.

Coffee, Tea, TV or Wifi?

Remember that great line from The Social Network: “First we lived on farms, then we lived in cities; and now we live on the Internet.” A new survey by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance drives that message home. It found that two thirds of 1000 millennials in the U.S. (ages 18 to 29) spend more time on wifi devices than they do watching television. Seventy-five percent of young adults said they would be crankier without wifi access for a week than they would during a week without coffee or tea.

According to the survey, millennials view wifi as a necessity, not a luxury. Almost 70% of young Americans spend more than four hours a day using wifi enabled devices. Without them, they say it would be difficult to keep up with family and friends.

Apparently hitting the books without wireless is no longer a viable option. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. respondents said they need to have access to wifi in schools and universities. On top of that, more than half said they had to have wifi in restaurants and shopping areas. It makes you wonder how we ever managed to get an education or shop for groceries without wifi.

The Wild Things We Do to Get Connected

Wifi starved road warriors have done some pretty strange things in their quest to connect. A Michigan man was fined $400 and given 40 hours of community service for piggybacking on an open wifi connection outside a coffee shop for a week. How about you? Have you ever grabbed a free wifi connection without paying for a cup of java? Or maybe you’ve taken long bus rides or cab rides in strange cities in order to use free wifi?

At home, have you found yourself holding your laptop out the window, “borrowing” your neighbor’s wireless connection in order to save a few bucks? An enterprising young man studying abroad decided to go one step further. He crafted a wireless antenna from a kitchen strainer, a magic marker and some Scotch tape. His main challenge – holding the dish just right to keep it connected. We’ve also heard about people taking to the roof to turn their TV antennas into wireless Internet antennas.

Well, that’s enough of the wifi sociology course. Besides falling off the roof or getting hit by lightning – or your neighbor – connecting to wifi  access points has other dangers. Here’s how you can practice “safe access” when you connect to a public hotspot.

What You Can Do

  • Install a firewall and antivirus protection and make sure it’s up to date.
  • Disable file sharing options to prevent hackers from accessing your shared files and folders.
  • Check to make sure the access point you’re connecting to is the authentic wifi hotspot, not an Evil Twin. Remember, Evil Twins are great impostors. When in doubt, ask the establishment where its wifi hotspot is and what it should look like when logging in.
  • Avoid accessing sensitive information such as bank accounts, passwords and credit card numbers when you’re connecting to public wifi networks.
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network) like PRIVATE WiFi™ to insure that your information travels through a secure tunnel that’s invisible to hackers.

If you’ve done some crazy things to get connected – we’d like to hear about them. Tell us how your wifi wanderlust turned out.

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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.