It’d be easy to think that Georg Simmel hasn’t been the talk of the town since he took on Kant, but there he is, resplendent in the New Yorker’s front section in its December 5, 2011 issue.

The topic at hand is actually the naming of personal wireless networks in reporter Lauren Collins’s “Brave New World: The Tao of Wifi.” In the article, readers are introduced to Alexandra Janelli, an environmental consultant with an accidental interest in the names of the wifi networks she encounters as she and her iPhone wander New York City. Janelli’s website,, catalogs and considers the names, which Collins says range from “passive aggressive messages to neighbors (Stop Cooking Indian!!!)” to “names [that] are poetry (Dumpling Manor, More Cowbell).”

To get a little more background on this unique form of self-expression, the New Yorker’s author sought out Elihu Rubin, a professor of urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture. It was Rubin who brought Simmel into the discussion:

He wrote [in “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” 1903] about the difficulty in asserting individual personality within the dimensions of metropolitan life. One solution was to adopt “tendentious peculiarities,” mannerisms (of dress, speech, etc.) or other extravagances to attract attention and thus bolster self-esteem.

Rubin muses that “the wireless network name is one such peculiarity,” and comments on how such names give anonymous writers “an open, uncensored forum for personal mantras and other compact philosophies.” It’s nice to see that, nearly a century later, Simmel is still helping everyone ask “What is Society?”