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Ubiquitous wireless will save the world

We all know wireless is powerful and addictive, but being away from it for a few days makes the heart grow even fonder.

I love wireless Internet.

I know, I'm hardly alone. There is no end to the number of road warriors and writers in cafes and rural professionals whose incomes and lifeline to friends and family depend on getting online on the go.

But after spending a few days away from connectivity, I'm really struck by just how vital Wi-Fi and other methods of getting on the Internet wirelessly are to me.

I noted the other day that I had managed, via an EV-DO card, to get a connection, albeit a slow one, while visiting my in-laws. This was ground-breaking, as it was at 4,000 feet and in the middle of a national forest. The next goal is figuring out how to get the in-laws their own, always-on, high-speed connection. Oh, and it has to be way more affordable than satellite.

I was telling them during this visit about Wi-Max and its someday-it'll-happen promise of being able to bathe an entire mountain, or something like that, with connectivity. But, for them, it really is quite some ways off.

For me, though, it was being on a second leg of my trip into the wilds of no Internet--a camping trip in the woods with a bunch of friends--where it really struck home: Even though I should really be in the moment, and happy to be away from e-mail and browsers and so forth, I was jonesing. I admit it. I wanted to get online. And it seemed absurd to me that I wasn't able to do so. I mean, I got a high-speed connection at Burning Man, in the middle of one of the most barren locations in the world.

But guilty as it makes me to realize that I want to get online even when I'm in the most remote places, I know there are many like me.

And I know there are billions of dollars being spent, even as I write this, to meet my needs. For this, I am grateful.

Here's the thing. I believe that ubiquitous high-speed wireless Internet can be one of the most powerful forces for positive change we've ever seen. I know that such an innovation would also bring all sorts of negative consequences to previously unconnected regions--spyware, invasions of privacy, Internet Explorer and so on--but its ability to let people communicate in so many different ways, to do research, to call for help, to organize and so on, trumps the downsides.

I also know this isn't a ground-breaking realization, and that--as I said above--the telecommunications companies of the world are betting their futures on the profitability of such a vision.

But if you're like me, and you're as hitched at the hip as I am to your Internet, you try spending several days away from it and not coming home convinced that being able to get online anywhere you are is the thing that can save the world.