In the Zone

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2005

In June, I was hiking up a steep trail to a glacier in the Tongass National Forest outside of Juneau, Alaska, with several members of my extended family, marveling at how untouched that area of the world still is, when, clear as a bird's trill, I heard my daughter's cell phone ring. Immediately my two kids and two nieces, all teen-agers, reached into their pockets to pull out their phones. Embarrassed in front of our disapproving guide, I hissed to my daughter to turn off her phone, but the incident made me realize there's no getting away from technology, even at the top of a mountain. I also realized that the urgent ring of a tiny cell phone can overwhelm the majesty of a glacier that dates back millions of years.

The truth is most of us would never give up the ability to communicate instantly with ease. In this issue, which has a special focus on technology companies, it's appropriate to note that Sarasota-Bradenton has been named one of the top 100 wireless regions (we're ranked 91) in the country in a recent Intel survey.

Dan Miller, a former Boston tech entrepreneur who came to Sarasota four years ago, is one of the people putting us on the map. As president of the brand-new technology advocacy group 82 Degrees Tech, Miller, along with fellow board member and Sarasota County Chief Information Officer Bob Hanson, helped launch downtown Sarasota's experimental Wi-Fi "hot zone" last May. Thanks to $70,000 from Sarasota County government and an antenna installed on the Sarasota County Judicial Center, the zone runs from the courthouse to The Ritz-Carlton and three blocks north and south of Main Street. So anyone there with a laptop can-in theory-wirelessly connect to the Internet while sitting in a restaurant, at a sidewalk café or underneath a tree at Five Points Park.

Both Miller and Hanson say the applications are tremendous for residents, businesspeople and visitors. Miller sees a future where Internet service can be provided to areas of the community where access has been unaffordable, and Hanson envisions students connecting to schools and county workers connecting to their offices from the field. They also say the service shows companies contemplating a move here that we're a progressive, tech-friendly community. "It sends a message," says Miller.

So far, I haven't seen busy businesspeople opening their laptops at lunch or taking them to the park, but I suppose it's only a matter of time before the need to connect to the Internet anywhere anytime will become as common as the need to flip open our cell phones. (In fact, anyone with a PDA or the latest cell phone model can already connect to the Internet with clarity and speed.)

If you have a wireless computer, you can scan for wireless networks, select the network Unplugged and connect to the new free Wi-Fi service. If you have trouble, send an e-mail to [email protected] or call (941) 861-5000.

As luck and technology would have it, Miller couldn't connect while we were sitting in C'est La Vie on Main Street, so we moved to a table on the sidewalk and-voila!-we sat staring into his Dell laptop as the world walked by. If only my daughter could have seen me.

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