In last month's very funny column we talked
about getting married to Google. This month's
highly entertaining column is about divorce. It's
time to put asunder those ties that bind, to cleave
those cords and cables in your life and live a
free, unfettered, untethered life.
First off, think of the clutter of wires
surrounding your computer. A new wireless
technology called Bluetooth banishes these.
It's a wireless personal area network that works
at a range up to about 30 feet. It automatically
senses other Bluetooth devices in the environment
and communicates with them using radio waves--much
like a cordless phone communicates with its base
Bluetooth devices are now starting to come out,
and my Macintosh operating system has Bluetooth
software built in. If I were to add a Bluetooth
transceiver to my computer, and buy
Bluetooth-enabled devices, I could say goodbye to
the cords that connect my keyboard, mouse, printer,
But the vision of Bluetooth goes far beyond
computer components. Imagine all your devices and
appliances talking to one another. You could
wirelessly program your VCR from your computer.
Your wall clock could be synchronized with the
highly accurate network time on your computer.
Another really cool development goes by the name
of 802.11b or Wi-Fi. Whereas Bluetooth has a
30-foot range, Wi-Fi has a range of about 300 feet
and is used for local area networks, such as in a
home, business, or classroom. People love Wi-Fi.
They can have access to the Internet wherever they
are in their house or business--no wires
So if you have Wi-Fi, do you still want
Bluetooth? Yes. They serve different purposes.
While Bluetooth can allow all manner of devices to
communicate with each other over a short distance,
Wi-Fi mainly replaces the network cables that run
from one room to the next.
A third area of the wireless revolution goes far
beyond the 300-foot limitation. Think of cell
phones and pagers, which have a much longer range.
Although today's cell phones increasingly have
access to the Internet, the screens are small, and
from what I understand, data transfer speeds are
The next step seems to be combining fast
broadband speeds, such as those available via
Ethernet and cable and DSL, with the range of
mobile telephony. I've recently been talking to
Shadow, Inc, a company based in Fairfield that's
starting to roll out wireless Internet access in
eastern Iowa that reaches miles.
Just like the person who is thrilled to have
wireless Internet access throughout his home,
Shadow's very competitively priced wireless
broadband access lets you have Internet access
wherever you are in a city, for example. And as
they roll out their service to more cities, you can
take your laptop from city to city and have
Here's what the future holds: wherever you are,
you'll be connected via whatever device you have in
hand, and all those devices will communicate with
all your other devices. It's happening fast.
And into this blissful future let's interject a
note of caution. All of this technology uses radio
waves--omnidirectional electromagnetic waves. When
your cordless phone communicates with its base,
it's using a transmitter to broadcast your
conversation, and the phone's base receives that
transmission and sends it over a phone line.
Because your conversation is being broadcast, it's
actually possible for people to use scanners to
tune it in. I've known this to happen, though I
think it's less common nowadays because of legal
It's also a consideration with Wi-Fi. There's
actually a whole subculture of people who drive
around neighborhoods and tap into Wi-Fi networks
whose 300-foot range extends beyond home or office.
Network security tools can often keep them from
intercepting your data transmissions, but so far
it's still pretty easy for them to borrow your
In general I that the security issues
surrounding wireless are being resolved but it is
definitely something you should be aware of.
Shadow, Inc., for example, says that security is
solid on its wireless network.
Another concern is health. Our brain and central
nervous system use minute electrical impulses to
transmit information. The electromagnetic waves
being transmitted by your devices could cause some
harm. Important considerations are probably how
strong they are and how close you are to the
transmitter. Your cell phone, right next to your
brain, is broadcasting a radio signal strong enough
to travel for miles. That sounds dangerous to me.
Weak signals as in Bluetooth are likely safer than
So enjoy freedom of your wireless future, but do
© 2002 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.