The search for public WiFi in Leeds just got a little easier with the announcement that a company are going to provide free WiFi via a series of blue telephone boxes. This is a great way of recycling an iconic design and bringing something that is so utterly 20th century and bringing it into the 21st century.
The company behind the scheme, aql, are already a major player in the telecommunication industry in Leeds. They aim to introduce 24 of the blue boxes into South Leeds and the city centre. When you are within reach you will have access to free WiFi. The boxes may be blue but they also boast some green credentials in that they will be solar powsered. The boxes will be locked due to them containing aql’s network equipment but they will still retain some of the functionality of a traditional phonebox. You will be able to make calls on them via a touchscreen that will be visible through the glass of exterior of the boxes. You will be able to make calls and emergency calls, though I am not sure how the calling system will work, how would you pay for your call? You will also be able to get local information from the boxes, though what exact local information has not been specified as yet.
In addition to calls you will also be able to record a video message. The aim is to collect a library of material that details people’s memories of the local area and these messages will eventually be shared with other websites including leodis.org. Leodis is an old name for Leeds and is also the name of the blue phonebox project.
I really like the idea of collecting people’s memories. My mother has a cousin and they are both in their 70’s, I love hearing them recount what life was like in the 1940’s and 50’s when they were young. It is their descriptions of everyday life in a bygone era that fascinates me. We have an opportunity to capture these memories, recording the minutiae of ordinary lives, an anthropologists dream. One day their generation will be all gone and so will those descriptions and I think we should do more to preserve their memories, if not their memory. To me this is one of the fascinating prospects that big data gives us. We can be less selective about what we store now because storage is becoming cheaper and cheaper and so we can store much more. Things that might appear trivial to us today could one day help provide future generations with an understanding about the way we perceived the world and what drove our actions.
In the future history will not be written by the victors but by those who chose to document their world, it will be more difficult to bury the truth and we are likely to live in a more open society that has a fundamental grasp of the privacy implications that life in a digital world brings. I appreciate that there will be some jolly japesters out there who will think that it is hilarious to record rude or offensive messages but again they will help to build up a picture of what our society is like today.
If you are hoping that you will see an aql phonebox in your own town or city centre then you may be disappointed as aql have said that they will only be rolling out their blue boxes in Leeds. However, I am sure that this kind of initiative is likely to be replicated in other locations.