manchester information networks

I have found some wifi hotspots, but none that I can or want to use. Several Starbucks seem to offer T-mobile’s service, which is too expensive. I can buy an hour at the Easy Internet Cafe for 50p in the morning, a pound in the afternoon, but the Starbucks across St. Ann’s square from the cafe wants to charge me about 12p a minute for WiFi. This doesn’t really make any sense, does it? I mean, what’s the equipment cost? I provide the computer and the wireless card. All they’re doing is giving me access to an Internet connection. There’s also a strong wifi signal flooding the reading room of the library where I spend my days. I can’t get anywhere using it, though. Perhaps it’s just a local network.

I get a little kick out of thinking of the wireless signals bouncing around the nineteenth-century library or the eighteenth-century church a stone’s throw from Starbucks.

There are some cool forms of communication here that are not unknown in America, but just not as common as here. Earlier I mentioned the phone booths that double as Internet kiosk. These are everywhere, though I’ve yet to see someone actually use them since that blog entry I made using one. On Albert Square, there’s a (non-enclosed) kiosk call “i-plus information,” which is a free access point that allows you to send an email (not from your own account; and you can’t check your email), check the BBC news, and check the weather. It uses a tough, touch-sensitive screen and it has thick plexiglass plates on either side and over the top to shield you from the elements. I’ve only seen one person using this, though.

Finally, their mobile phones. Text-messaging seems like it’s done more commonly here than in America. Well, at least there are a number of tv shows and ads that say “Text blah-blah-blah” to enter a contest or to vote for something. Also, there’s an ad campaign going on right now to promote a mobile phone service that allows you to send video messages to other people on the service. Wow. That’s a lot of bandwidth.

I know it’s bad cultural studies practice to generalize based on limited observation, so I won’t say these technologies characterize English culture or even Manchester culture, but these are the things I’ve observed.

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2 thoughts on “manchester information networks

  1. BT provides all the phone booths in the UK. Usage was falling to such an extent that they couldn’t even break even. They have a public duty to provide the boxes though (for those that can’t afford mobiles) so couldn’t just dump them
    They provided the internet boxes to try and get people back in. As far as I know they haven’t been massive but BT is now making money off them again. People use them to make calls again. I guess the pretty screen draws them in.
    Texting in the UK and Europe is HUGE. About 5 years ago we got pay as you go mobiles instead of just contracts (buy a mobile then buy top up cards to add credit to make calls) These calls were 40p ($0.60) a min. As pay as you go were aimed at kids and texting cost 10p a go the kids texted. Parents got caught up too and it went from there.
    My bank now sends me a text everytime money is taken out of my account. This way I know is someone is using my account details. Kids text TV shows rather than email and everyone votes for Big Brother (TV Show) by text.
    It grew to such an extent that even when calls were cheaper than texting people still text.
    Oh and some companies are trying to rip us off with wi-fi as always. All that will happen is no one will use it and then the prices will come down and usage will grow.
    The i-plus boxes were put in for the commonwealth games (mini olimpics where all the countries (not US) that were part of the Empire get together for a great time) I don’t think the people of Manchester use them but they seem to be popular with tourists
    Hope that helps

  2. Thanks for the comments, Jordan. These details are very interesting and are a good corrective to narratives of IT and culture that are heavily slanted by technological determinism. It’s not just what’s available for people to use that matters, obviously: also important is a whole host of other issues. I hope to write more on this in a future blog entry if I can find the time.

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