With a wry twinkle of the eye and nostalgic sighs, Lev Grossman has posted a humorous article over at TIME about his three years spent as that most loathsome of criminals, the Wi-Fi thief. At the end of the day, Grossman got off scottfree, but leeching Wi-Fi isn't without its travails:
Mine wasn't a particularly sociable apartment building, but wi-fi transcends urban alienation. You can draw your blinds and grunt at me on the stairs all you want, No. 7, but I can see your network just fine. Some people thought of creative names for their networks: ParisBrooklyn, MessageInaBottle. Some were boring: linksys, NETGEAR, default. I was always happy to see the boring ones, because the people who don't bother thinking of clever names for their home networks are the same people who don't bother to password-protect them. Anybody who calls his hot spot WebOfDarkness isn't going to give me any wireless love. I think YouHavSomNerv was on to me too.
You don't fly first class when you're stealing bandwidth. Wi-fi hot spots are large--about the size of a football field--but those signals had to pass through a lot of masonry before they got to my laptop. Wi-fi operates on an unlicensed frequency, so it has to deal with interference from baby monitors and microwave ovens and cordless phones too. As a result, my Internet access would vanish and reappear like a will-o'-the-wisp, even when I engaged OS X's excitingly named "interference robustness" feature. I always seemed to lose connectivity just when I was about to send a crucial e-mail--it's embarrassing to run down a city street waving your laptop around like a crazy person, but it's amazing how unselfconscious you get when you have to find one lousy bar of wi-fi in the next two minutes or you're going to get fired.
I always find myself, in abstract, believing in leaving my Wi-Fi open to be neighborly. When it comes down to doing it, though, I find I begrudge the loss of oomph, the sacrifice of upstream and downstream to a neighbor's thoughtless torrenting. Would I let my neighbor use my shower if his was broken? Sure. But if the constant choice I had to face was letting him take a shower and therefore only having half as much hot water when I came around to bathing, I'd terminate the arrangement quickly, leaving him to dehydration and feculence. Do you guys simply leave your wireless open to everyone, including the will'o'wisps?
Confessions of a Wi-Fi Thief [TIME]