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Turning Wi-Fi Network Names Into Art

Hotspot Poets lets dead writers haunt your Wi-Fi. It's not as spooky as you'd think.

Your router's SSID—or the field that lets you specify your Wi-Fi network's name—has long been a beloved haunt of techno-pranksters, who enjoy filling it with profane messages and strings of poop emoji. Russian media artist Dmitry Morozov is now putting Wi-Fi SSIDs to a slightly more noble pursuit—creating an array of what he calls Hotspot Poets, who transmit the poetry over Wi-Fi.

Each Hotspot Poet is actually a small microtransmitter each of which represents one of four classical poets: Matsuo Bashō (Japanese), Johann Wolfgang van Goethe (German), Boris Pasternak (Russian), and Petrarch (Italian). Each small, plastic pod has a QR-scannable rendition of the poet's face on the casing to indicate which poet it represents. Inside, each device contains a simple Wi-Fi transmitter, a microprocessor, and a copy of that poet's collected works.

But you can't actually connect to a Hotspot Poet. These little transmitters don't have access to the Internet, and they aren't programmed to allow incoming connections. But poets can be an antisocial bunch, so connecting isn't the point: it's all about broadcasting.

When you switch a Hotspot Poet on, he immediately starts broadcasting a new Wi-Fi channel to any local computers, smartphones, and tablets within a few dozen meters—and its network name is always drawn from a line of poetry.

Every 10 seconds, the name of its Wi-Fi channel changes. Given enough time, it cycles through the poet's works, line by line. Depending on what device you're using the Hotspot Poet with, these poems display in a few different ways. On Android, the SSID name of the Hotspot Poet will constantly refresh; on iOS, new lines will appear as a new network; on Mac, all lines of the poem will be visible until the Wi-Fi status menu button is deselected.

Right now, the Hotspot Poets only broadcast couplets and stanzas, but what's interesting to me about the project is how it rethinks Wi-Fi network names as a way of distributing information. You could put this same technique to work in more serious ways: for instance, in case of emergency, a Wi-Fi router could be programmed to give out instructions to local rescue centers, or if severed from the Internet, could transmit the number of a troubleshooting hotline.

Not as fun as the donger I've currently got as my Wi-Fi network name, perhaps, but a heck of a lot more useful.

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