Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Tilting at 5G Towers: Rethinking Infrastructural Transition in 2020

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Abstract:  5G has the potential to expand the horizons of digital inclusion by providing higher speeds, lower latency, and support for more devices on a given network. However, mis‐ and disinformation about 5G has proliferated in recent years and stands to be a persistent barrier to the adoption of this generation of wireless technologies. After rumours linking 5G to Covid‐19 emerged in the wake of the pandemic, isolated actors attempted to disrupt infrastructure with a perceived connection to 5G. Media coverage of these incidents inadvertently spread such claims, engendering lasting uncertainty about 5G. Infrastructure scholars have long held to the maxim that “the normally invisible quality of working infrastructure becomes visible when it breaks” (Star, 1999, p. 482), but efforts to interpret the uptake of mis‐ and disinformation have struggled to define the technical difference 5G makes and describe diffused acts of anti‐5G sentiment that exploited its slippery symbolic associations. What broke to make 5G so visible? This article reassesses interference with infrastructure through the lens of a literary metaphor derived from Miguel de Cervantes’ epic novel Don Quixote. Using the Don’s famed joust with windmills, I examine what efforts to disrupt the development of 5G in 2020 can tell us about infrastructural transition. With reference to Quixote’s tilt, I contend that the disruptions of 2020 illustrate conflicting imperatives of inclusion and exclusion underlying neoliberal schemes of telecommunication development.

Keywords:  5G; conspiracy theory; Covid‐19; disinformation; infrastructure; misinformation; standardization; technical standards; telecommunications

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v11i3.6741


© Rory Sharp. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.