This Wi-Fi network wants to prevent you from getting cancer

From The Idea Factory, our special report on innovation

Man using wifi
(Image credit: iStock)

Each year, some 2 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer. And despite a veritable flood of warnings against spending too much time in the sun, people still flock to beaches and sun-drenched patches of grass to catch some rays. The more blissfully ignorant among them even slather themselves in baby oil first. So how can we encourage sun chasers to embrace the shade? Lure them with something they really want: the internet.

An agency called Happiness Brussels has developed a clever Wi-Fi system that only works when you're in the shade. The first installation of the aptly named Shadow Wi-Fi is on a beach in Peru, where the agency built a massive wall to cast a long shadow across the sand. If users want to surf the web, they'll need to be in the shade, and as the sun moves, they'll have to move with it. (A sensor tracks the sun's movements, and an antenna beams internet access only to the shaded area.)

"It's a very behavioral idea," the chief creative officer of Happiness Brussels told PSFK. "It doesn't just inform people about the dangers of too much sun. It gives them a really good reason to actually seek some shade: free Wi-Fi. And at the same time we are of course informing them, and potentially preventing skin cancer."

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So far, Shadow Wi-Fi is only available in Peru, but Happiness Brussels is working with cancer foundations across the world to bring the network to other places, including San Francisco and parts of New Zealand (which has some of the highest melanoma rates in the world).

Though the wall itself is a bit gimmicky, it's certainly a unique way of raising awareness about a seriously dangerous disease. And using our obsession with connectivity as a way of encouraging healthy behavior is really smart. Plus, when users log in to the Wi-Fi network, they're taken to a site that provides tips for cancer prevention.

The hope is to create a "truly global network of free Wi-Fi preventing skin cancer." Perhaps someday we could find free Wi-Fi conveniently located under a shaded tree in our public parks or beneath an umbrella outside a local restaurant. Meanwhile, slap on that sunscreen.

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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a writer and former deputy editor of The Week Digital. Originally from the American Midwest, she completed a degree in journalism at Indiana University Bloomington before relocating to New York City, where she pursued a career in media. After joining The Week as an intern in 2010, she served as the title’s audience development manager, senior editor and deputy editor, as well as a regular guest on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. Her writing has featured in other publications including Popular Science, Fast Company, Fortune, and Self magazine, and she loves covering science and climate-related issues.