WiFi Geographies: When Code Meets Place

Over the past decade, since the Internet’s mainstream adoption in 1995, scholars have used a plethora of spatial metaphors to describe the spaces and places of digital information. However, in the current moment, a digital information layer is rapidly expanding throughout the physical spaces of our homes, offices, cities and towns. This digital layer includes mobile and wireless technologies such as WiFi hotspots, municipal wireless networks, cellular networks, wireless sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. For example, electronic access cards are increasingly being used to allow entry to apartment buildings (especially, in luxury condominiums) and offices, sensors are being deployed to measure pollution and credit cards have been equipped with one-touch payment systems. Mobile phones are commonplace, and laptops accessing the Internet wirelessly in cafes, parks and public spaces are increasingly so. The nexus between physical and digital space is both challenging and interesting because while both shape, and are shaped by human behavior, the ways in which they regulate may be different, and, even, conflicting at times. This further complicates the ways in which we understand the Internet and related technologies and their business and policy implications. Therefore, as I will argue, a new theoretical concept is needed to better understand the interaction between physical and digital space in answer to the question: “What happens when code [software] meets place?”