Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Network failure

"Walkie-talkies are preferable to cell phones in that their signals do not depend on satellites, relays, or any other external aids."

This preference refers specifically to surviving a zombie outbreak, and while that should be good enough reason to pay attention, it also brings up the interesting question of what happens when networks are down.

As part of the Communications, Catastrophe and the Future of Cities research group at NYU, Anthony Townsend and Mitchell Moss' recent report, Telecommunications Infrastucture in Disasters: Preparing Cities for Crisis Communications, looks specifically at telecom infrastructure failure during urban disasters:

"A key lesson of September 11 is that our increasingly complex infrastructure for telecommunications is no longer under the control of a single entity that can be held to standards of reliability... The three major broadcast networks are now supplemented by hundreds of cable and satellite networks. Vertical disintegration, particularly in the provision of Internet services, has led to layered infrastructure that further complicates the goal of network reliability. Finally, our increasing dependence upon the limited capacity and fickle nature of wireless networks remains the great unspoken Achilles' heel of emergency telecommunications..."

People keep telling me that ubicomp is right here, right now. But I'm hardly the only one who says, "Yes, well, IF it all works THEN..." What kind of network society exists when the network breaks? And where do we locate accountability in the societies of control?


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