Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Gaming & Technology

Flight 370 and gaps in the internet

by Connor Tomas O'Brien , March 24, 2014Leave a comment

wifi

 

On Twitter the other day, sandwiched between a slew of links to articles about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, somebody tweeted a link to the website for Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can be attached to physical objects, enabling them to be located within a 150-foot range. Their comment: ‘Thanks to this new product offering, we never have to lose anything valuable again.’ Nothing, that is, except passenger jetliners.

Our intense interest in the disappearance of Flight 370 is, as Slate writer Jeff Wise has suggested, ‘a product of how much we’ve come to take for granted the modern superabundance of information.’ With web-connected, location-aware phones in our pockets, we’ve lost the ability to lose ourselves, at least anywhere we can receive a persistent signal. And when these devices are not in our pockets (often because they’ve been pick-pocketed from them), they’re more than capable of letting us know exactly where they are, even if they’re in the possession of thieves intent on suppressing this functionality.

Even ‘dumb’ objects, like pushbikes and backpacks, are about to gain sophisticated persistent tracking functionality with the Tile, while the upcoming Coin promises the same kind of location awareness for credit cards.

The disappearance of Flight 370 is a tragedy, but it is holding our interest because we can’t figure out how it happened in a world in which the ‘Internet of Things’ is, apparently, readily taking shape. How is it that we can pinpoint the precise location of our iPads from anywhere in the world, but an airliner can drop off the grid so completely that nobody in the world can figure out where it went and when?

Speaking to Reuters recently, Air Vice Marshal Michael Harwood suggested that movies and military drone feeds (and, presumably, also consumer GPS technologies like ‘Find My iPhone’) have ‘suckered people’ into believing our tracking technologies are vastly more capable than they are. Indeed, one result of the disappearance of Flight 370 is that it has become clear that airspace across many countries (including Malaysia) isn’t properly monitored, and sometimes, in the case of India, isn’t even monitored at all.

The disappearance of 370 reveals something striking: our experiences with the consumer technologies in our pockets seem to have caused us to mistakenly infer that non-consumer technologies are vastly more sophisticated than they probably are. Driving from Adelaide to Melbourne recently, I was surprised that my phone’s reception rarely dropped below a full five bars; even more astonishingly, when I was in Myanmar, one of the world’s least-developed countries, my phone was still able to consistently track where I was by triangulating nearby Wi-Fi networks.

This is all a little misleading, though – and we’re often willingly mislead, because we so badly want to believe the world is smaller and better-connected than it really is. In Australia and other developed countries, mobile networks install towers designed to saturate the area surrounding well-travelled highways, giving the impression that regional areas have high-speed mobile internet when they often still have no coverage at all. In Myanmar, this is even more pronounced: we discovered through word-of-mouth that if a tourist moves even a few kilometres off the typical backpacker path, not only does persistent Wi-Fi coverage cut out, but electricity does, too.

There may not be a lesson to take away from the disappearance of Flight 370 – it is a tragedy, and real-world tragedies don’t exist to provide us with learning experiences. But one inadvertent takeaway might be this: the Global Village, as popularised by Marshall McLuhan in 1962, does not really exist. Our consumer technologies may have fooled us into believing the internet blankets the planet, but this is not really so.

Inside our networked bubbles, we can cover everything we own in Tiles and GPS trackers, but outside those bubbles most of the world remains as unconnected as ever. When we fly, this might be something to think about as we look up at the screens on our seatbacks to watch a tiny graphic of our plane making its way neatly across the Pacific.

Connor Tomas O’Brien is a web designer and writer, co-founder of ebookstore platform Tomely, and co-director of the Digital Writers’ Festival.

ACO logo




Article Lead - narrow6609450913cmhzimage.related.articleLeadNarrow.353x0.13cmul.png1424238111699.jpg-300x0

Rebecca Starford

‘You’re the least important person in the room’: Memoir and Bad Behaviour

Being fourteen is difficult enough; being trapped in an isolated cabin with other girls all experiencing similar feelings of loneliness, fear, and uncertainty makes for a volatile situation. Who wants to remember being a fourteen-year-old – especially one who carried around so much shame and fear? Read more »

22454066

Jacinta Halloran

Medicine as Art: An interview with Terrence Holt

Internal Medicine turns on its head the commonly-held wisdom of power and control in the doctor-patient relationship. Holt’s doctor-narrator is conflicted and questioning, often exhausted and confused. His writing aims for something less slick than the sanitised television offerings of medical melodramas, where ‘what entertains usually falsifies.’ Read more »

2303400407_d25f8d8b8a_o

James Tierney

What Australian Literary Conversation?

I am concerned about the absence of a performative aspect of criticism in the public domain, which doesn’t necessarily assume specialised knowledge or recognised allegiances, but is prepared to discuss what criticism is. Read more »

gbbo

Rebecca Shaw

Crumbling the Great Wall of Heteronormative Assumption

You are just there to see a doctor, or have a haircut, when all of a sudden you are reminded that you are different. You are forced to come out to strangers over and over again. You are required to either refute their assumptions and risk having an awkward or unpleasant discussion with a stranger about your personal life, or you are forced to lie. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

What does it mean to film the same performers over the course of years, to have them age in front of the camera? Everyday pays careful attention to boredom, and at moments it manages to capture a sense of time that is both elusive and profound. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »