What the Wi-Fi Do You Know, Huh?

Recently, my mother visited and told me she was ready to have a smart phone. I explained that if you have a smart phone, you need a data plan for your data streaming needs. Otherwise, the alternative is Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi you’re covered and don’t need to worry about your data plan.

She nodded in satisfaction, until…until she asked, Well, what is Wi-Fi?

“Wi-Fi? Oh, well, it comes out of that silver box,” I said, pointing to the corner. “And, you can get it at Starbucks.”

“Hmm,” she said.

She seemed displeased with my answer. I can’t imagine why. It seemed plenty good enough to me. Was she seeking something more tech-savvy?

I wondered if anyone else had a better answer to satisfy her curiosity, so I asked around. After all, Wi-Fi is necessary for our survival.

Source: weknowmemes.com

When we need it, we expect it to be there. If it’s something so critical to the functioning of daily lives, certainly someone can explain it.

My question to my sample was simple:

What is Wi-Fi and can you please explain it?

Here’s what I got. Occupations and ages follow.

My Dad (77)
Why? Is it anything like hi-fi?
Ha ha. Good one!

Professor of Political Science, 45
It is the electronic space in which we operate. A specific broadcast is signaled to your phone from the wireless server.

IT Professional, 51
Wireless is configured to go through wireless and then you type in a security code.
Me: How does it work?
It just works. You can’t see it; it’s invisible.

Instructional Designer, 52
It means wireless. Wireless fiber optics. Hell, if I know how it works.

Caregiver, 48
It’s a wireless connection. The computer sends out a signal by satellite.

Kids, ages 7-10
I have no idea.
Internet connection wireless. A radio tower or satellite gives you a signal.

Comic Book Store Employee (late twenties)
If helps you get the Internet, right? Does anything else matter?
Oh, touchy.

Engineer, 47
Wireless fidelity means Internet without land lines.
Me: And, then how?…Hello.

Why don’t I just ask the experts? What do you know, I just happened to bump into the AT&T service rep in my neighborhood. They love talking about Wi-Fi. Here’s what the rep had to say:

Wi-Fi is your wireless Internet connection. The router gives off a wireless Internet connection for a wireless enabled device to pick up a connection.

Uh, huh…I think I’m really getting it now.

Should my mother ask for an explanation, I have a newly defined sense of Wi-Fi, which I’ll share with you now, because I know you can’t go another day without knowing. (Oh, ,and I’ve added a couple of flourishes.)

Wi-Fi is this:

We have this box in the corner, and it hooks into something that pulses beneath us underground (fiber optics) and then shoots up into the satellites and beams back down to Earth, wrapping around us in electrical, sparkling, invisible currents, allowing Internet routers to enable other wireless devices to join in wireless fidelity, and we can get it at Starbucks or anywhere we damn well need it, otherwise we’ll be extremely sad, anxious, and incomplete. We get it, use it, and have it when we want it, and then feel warm and fuzzy all over.

That’s all you really need to know…like you can explain it any better. You’re going to Google it now, aren’t you? Rest assured, this is the best definition you’ll find. Oh, you’re welcome. It was my pleasure.

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78 thoughts on “What the Wi-Fi Do You Know, Huh?

  1. Your mom should be pleased at the amount of research you’re doing for her! The kids are pretty accurate (all three sentences). Part of my job is dealing with wireless microphones on the musical I work on and over the years since we’ve been open, the FCC has gradually chipped away at our allotted bandwidth because all the phone/internet providers are lobbying for more space. There’s actually another bill up right now and if it passes, I’m pretty sure we’re going back to foot mics and “Sing out, Louise!” because there’s no more room. We theater folks are placing a lot of faith in the NFL and giant church lobbyists who use the same radio space as us, because honestly, no one really cares about musicals. But football? That’s a big deal.

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    1. I will hope she appreciates this! The kids are smart cookies. Well, I care about musicals and theater folk. How can people be so selfish? It doesn’t seem like it would be so difficult to have some wireless mics with all our wonderful technology. I’m sorry to hear about this. If football doesn’t get any attention, I’m not sure what else will. I hope you get it all sorted out.

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  2. I had a blind date with a chinese student once – her name was Wye Fi – sadly it didn’t work out but she must be worth a few bob now

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  3. I love Maslow’s triangle with Wi-Fi at the bottom, Amy. So true. I remember trying to explain to my hair stylist (who is a very intelligent person) the difference between Wi-Fi and cellular data. It seemed like it took several conversations over the course of a few months before she actually got it! And I have a number of older clients who are dipping their toes into the Kindle/iPad arena. Same thing! Do you want a cellular connection or just Wi-Fi? Sigh…

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    1. I think most people just want it work, Cathy. Am I right? It’s funny my mom wanted an explanation at all. It just works, okay…It’s uh, magic dust…I definitely fall into the category of a happy user.

      I think Maslow’s triangle is, sadly, pretty accurate for a lot of people. It’s come to this.

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      1. of course it is really radio, in a spectrum range assigned by the government to not interfere with other transmissions like cell/tv.

        Calling it ether net just proves that nerdy guys have a sense of humor…

        Ether: a : the rarefied element formerly believed to fill the upper regions of space. b : the upper regions of space : heavens. 2. a also aeยทther : a medium that in the wave …

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      2. Of course, no one got the radio right, Bill! Are you as shocked as I am?

        Funny how the “ether” seems quite appropriate. If people were told it’s a fact, they would probably believe it.

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      3. maybe with string theory, all those single dimensional “strings” vibrating away in space-time the “ether” really exists.

        Those ancient philosophers had it right after all.

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  4. It’s like the old cable-to-computer internet connection, but it works like a cordless phone.
    Glosses and misrepresents as awful lot of what it is, but probably the most non-tech accessible answer.
    (I’m really trying to avoid being pedantic and breaking it down in detail!)

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure I’ve worked with the IT Pro you quote above.

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    1. Guapo, I appreciate you taking the time to break it down. Are you a techy person? I think you are! I’m working with cable, computers, and phones…it sounds like magic to me! I think it’s funny that most people can’t explain it, even if they can understand it themselves, not that you didn’t do a wonderful job. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. I know when I don’t have a connection though! I’m sure about that one.

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  5. A lot of our world is becoming very much akin to magic: we have no idea how it works, it just does when we push this, this, and this. I have a theory about technology. It goes like this: the levels of complexity are, from lowest to highest: using, maintaining, repairing, building, designing. Understanding jumps around the spectrum, depending on the complexity of the understanding. The point is that cavemen could do all these things but slowly, as things become more complex, the average person is restricted to only using things (and not always even that without training ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

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    1. Oh, I love this, David! I’m at the lower end of things, using and barely maintaining. Ha ha. Maybe I get brownie points for my level of enjoyment in using said technologies. I think you’re right. The more complex things become, and they will continue to be, the less people will understand. We live in a magical world…pretty soon people will stop trying to even understand. Oh gee, I think that’s already happening. I’m glad that someone is following along.

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  6. I’m gonna go with your dad’s answer, “Is it anything like hi-fi?” That’s how little I understand underground fiber optics. As long as I get my connection, I’m happy. Where and how it gets there remains a total mystery to me.

    Thanks for enlightening us today, Amy!

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  7. I like thinking it’s magic. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But with the bandwidth thing…..can not the government just make it bigger so there is enough to share?? I mean they make other things bigger or make more money or whatever. So why not that too?? Just wonderin’.

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    1. I wish I could answer this question that I know is on everyone’s mind. Jackie, I’m sure people are working on it 24/7 as I know our bandwidth needs probably change by the minute, er seconds! If they don’t fix this, our world may explode. I’ve been wonderin’ the same. Get it fixed!

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  8. “Comic Book Store Employee (late twenties)
    If helps you get the Internet, right? Does anything else matter?”

    Urban wisdom at its best!
    When Wi-Fi dies or you gotta paid for it (at airports and hotels for example) makes a lot of people really unhappy.

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  9. First world problem and key to happiness! My kids still don’t understand why wi-fi is not omnipresent and why some of their devices don’t work in the car when we’re driving. I also have a hard time explaining it.

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    1. I don’t understand why it’s not omnipresent, either. Just kidding. I sort of understand. My kids definitely understand what doesn’t work in the car, this much I know. They must make alternative plans, which usually means playing with my phone, because who really needs a phone anyway.

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      1. My kids do get what doesn’t work in the car, but the logic is a bit fuzzy to the youngest one. Why aren’t the invisible wires everywhere?!
        Who really needs a phone indeed! I never talk on mine. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. Well, I read all, including the comments, and I still don’t really get it. I don’t think we have to get it. Look how long we talked on phones and watched TV over antennas. Didn’t know how any of that worked, either, even before we all went digital. I’m just glad that someone knows ’cause I sure like it!!!

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  11. Amy, where would we be without you? WiFi has always been mysterious. The way you’ve summarized it, it’s more magical than ever. And maybe always will be. I still have a block in my head about it. Thanks for making me laugh!

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      1. Ahh I’m word constipated.

        It is really funny trying to explain the cloud. They think the stuff is saved in the sky haaa

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  12. We finally broke down and got wi-fi capability at home. And now, I swear, my eggs taste funny. My kids say it’s just me being paranoid. But sometimes I’m pretty sure I can hear my eggs make the “Twitter alert” sound…

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    1. Ah, Ned, thanks for stopping by! Come to think of it, my eggs taste funny, too! I’ll be listening closely for that Twitter alert, although I probably don’t hear that one since I’m not twittering yet…Now I’m afraid.

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  13. Hi Amy. The answer is so simple. It’s just a misspelling. It should be WIFE. It’s there all the time when you need it until the football game comes on then it throws a wobbly. Simple !! Ralph xox ๐Ÿ˜€

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