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Why take in great views of London when you can stare at a screen?

The London Eye was rubbish before free WiFi.
Jamie Rigg, @jmerigg
August 1, 2017
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If you took a whirl on the Coca-Cola™ London Eye but didn't stream it on Facebook Live, did it even happen? We needn't concern ourselves with that philosophical question any longer, because O2 has announced that its free WiFi network, which reaches into all of the giant Ferris wheel's 32 capsules, is here to stay. The network was already live, but today has moved from "trial" status to become a permanent fixture, because we can't possibly spend the 30-minute revolution not glued to our smartphones now, can we?

Obviously we're being provocative here. No doubt armies of tourists will enjoy being able to post an Instagram picture at the top of the loop without worrying about roaming charges. It's a free service with a legitimate use case, and complements the free O2 WiFi that's been available at the base of the wheel for some time. But you can't deny there's a certain irony in it -- a tourist attraction famed for its view giving you every opportunity to look at a slab of glass in your hand instead. And this is in addition to the "4D Cinema Experience" that includes bird's-eye views of iconic sites you can watch before stepping into a capsule; as well as the tablets installed in each pod that serve as digital "guides."

Our lust for permanent connectivity and tech-augmented environments reached The Shard building in London just a few days ago, too. The viewing deck on the 69th floor, 800 feet (244m) above the pavement, is now home to two virtual reality experiences. "Vertigo" has you standing on steel beam, stripping back the safety of the finished building and giving you an idea of what it was like up there during the construction process. "The Slide" is more of a VR simulator. You sit in a "toboggan style seat" that moves as you barrel down a track that weaves around a computer-generated reconstruction of The Shard, all the while rubbernecking at a high-definition, 360-degree stitch of images of the capital.

This also makes sense. Having more things to do up there when you're tired of looking out the window and taking the necessary snaps for sharing makes a visit to the viewing deck more of an event. For the operators, it also means a bit more income (when the free introductory period expires on August 5th, anyway). But again, the irony is you're obscuring arguably the best of view of London by strapping a screen to your face.

On a related note, O2 and The View from The Shard have come up with some fairly comical promotional claims to accompany their launches. The latter now houses the "UK's highest virtual reality experience" and "world's highest virtual slide," while O2's technical feat is "the world's first free, high-density WiFi network on a continually moving structure." Congrats?

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