‘Underground, but not unconnected’

If it had to happen in any city, I suppose it makes sense that it happened here first:

BART has become the first transit system in the nation to offer wireless communication to all passengers on its trains underground, putting an end to miles of technological isolation for multitasking commuters with cell phones glued to their ears, Blackberry devices stuck in their palms and computers perched on their laps.

“The goal we have is to completely wire 100 percent of the underground so a passenger (on a wireless device) wouldn’t know if they were above ground or underground,” said Chuck Rae, BART’s manager of telecommunications revenue. “It would be seamless.”

Some commuters riding under Market Street in San Francisco already are yakking on their phones, surfing the Web and sending e-mail. Within weeks, most passengers should be able to use wireless devices under San Francisco to phone in a pizza order on their way home.

The article mentions the safety aspect – that after 9/11 and the role of cell phones, people seemed much more keen on having phone service in such a normally isolated area. I can’t help but wonder, however, in a disaster situation – how long will the signal be there? And is there such a thing as too much connectivity anyway? We’re practically all GPSed as it is – nearly ensuring that everyone can find us, from friends to bosses.

And of course, the most likely new annoyance will be people who can soon use the whole transbay tube time to yack to their friend about what so-and-so did at the bar last night and ohnohedidn’t and ohnoyoucan’tbeserious and butimailedthecheckyesterday and thedoctorsaysits contagioiussoireallyshouldn’thangouttonight.

It isn’t just phone access, of course. Riders will be able to send email, text messages, etc. Could be handy. It would be great to double check directions, transfer times, or let friends know when you’re arriving.

So what’s better – more connectivity or less? What allows us to feel safer also allows our private time to be invaded just a bit more. Is it worth it?

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