As a race and as a society we just love our boundaries and our borders; go here, don’t go here, this is yours, this is ours. We put up border controls, we tax dependent on what side of the street you live on, you need the right visa stamp in your passport to pass onto this piece of land, which looks identical to the one you’re currently standing on but because of a line drawn on a map its … different.
While lots of the animal kingdom are equally territorial, no one species has managed to invent a whole series of rules and regulations and to employe an entire bureaucracy to ensure the rules and regulations are correctly implemented and patrolled.
But most of these lines of meaning are ignored by the fellow denizens of our planet and our technology ignores them too these days. On mainland Europe, each country has its own set of cellular networks, whose signals overlap with those of neighbouring countries along the myriad of borders that make up the European Union. This happens to me around twice a week as I shuttle back and forth between London and Berlin, but because I’m at around 33,000 feet, on a plane, with my mobile either switched off or in flight safe mode, it passed unnoticed.
But put a big mass of water in the way, like the English Channel (or La Manche as our French neighbours say) and travel much more slowly, say on a ferry and something much more interesting happens.
Roughly half way across the Channel and the French mobile signals weaken and signal strength starts to drop off. At the same time, the first faint signals from their UK counterparts start to gain in strength and, if you’re watching carefully, your mobile gets confused for about 5 minutes, swapping back and forth between UK and French networks until, as you get closer to Dover, the UK signal strength overwhelms the French ones. If you’re watching carefully, you can see it happen, right before your eyes. If it helps, it’s like another, technological border and your mobile phone is the passport, allowing you passage from a French roaming network back to your UK home network.