Homeless Hotspots: A Disgraceful And Exploitative Experiment

The idea of using homeless people as wireless hotspots is a disgusting way to treat those who've fallen through the cracks in society, and anyone who supports the idea should be ashamed.
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The idea of using homeless people as wireless hotspots is a disgusting way to treat those who've fallen through the cracks in society, and anyone who supports the idea should be ashamed.

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I first read about the Homeless Hotspots debate on a train to London in the Independent. Next to a massive article, with pictures, about how Starbucks in the UK were going to start writing your name on the cups to personalise their service, a 151 word article was squeezed in on Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s ‘innovative social experiement’ at SXSW.

In a way they’ve kind of got the same aim haven’t they? Starbucks want to personalise their service by putting your name on a cup. BBH want to personalise the use of Wi-Fi by using homeless people as machines, so ‘regular’ people have to interact with ‘street people’ in order to go on facebook on their shiny tablets and smartphones. See? The same.

OH WAIT NO IT ISN’T.

BBH is a marketing firm, yet it’s being promoted as if it is some sort of charity. You can bet they’re all leaning back rubbing their hands together with big smug grins on their face right now at all the coverage this idea has generated for them, not for the sake the homeless people under their ‘employment’, but for their own bank accounts.

How is this any different to the ID number prisoners are given as their new form of identification?

I have so many issues with this entire project. They wear T-shirts saying “I AM _______ A 4G HOTSPOT’. Devaluing the person to the service they provide rather than the person that they are us degrading. How is this any different to the ID number prisoners are given as their new form of identification?

The fact that they have been called “street people” is just ghastly. As if that’s their race, or their nationality, rather than in most cases an unfortunate turn of events without adequate care from their government which has left them with no home, no job, no food and no shelter. This is all glossed over in the articles, such as “this is ____ he’s been homeless since Hurricane Katrina left him without a house” or “this is ______ he’s been homeless since his house burned down”.

These are such awful reasons to be made homeless due to the fact that they are so easily remedied and no fault of their own. (Yes ok, hypothetically he could have burnt his own house down in an accident, but would any of you expect the possibility of becoming homeless if that were to happen? No you wouldn’t, exactly.).

Can people not sense the indignity of that? Giving a homeless man a couple of dollars that means everything to them and nothing to you, so that you can log on to your variety of social media websites?

This factor strips the whole issue back to it’s foremost point, highlighting that instead of attacking a country where a natural disaster causes devastation to people’s lives leaving them begging on a street, a marketing firm can instead use these people to deliver a service which they themselves can’t afford to utilise.

Can people not sense the indignity of that? Giving a homeless man a couple of dollars that means everything to them and nothing to you, so that you can log on to your variety of social media websites, check the sports news and generally fuck about on the internet in a way that the person who’s providing this service to you can only dream about? It’s a disgrace.

Turning a human being in to a modem is just the start of a hell of a lot more trouble. The company says they are making no money from the venture whatsoever, which I assume is why they’re feeling so charitable, so why don’t they just give the money to the homeless instead through sponsorship rather than exploitation, or better yet, give them an actual job? One that doesn’t warrant them sitting outside come rain or shine so that you can send a tweet? One that won’t provide the horizon of staying ‘employed’ in this way so that they can keep making the money they are making, but in turn having to remain sleeping on a pavement, juxtaposed with whether to try and save their wage, get a roof over their head, but be left with no job as a result as presumably the company will cut them off when they do actually progress?

Turning a human being in to a modem is just the start of a hell of a lot more trouble.

Proponents of homeless hotspots are stating that it will turn them from nobodies into information givers, provide a way for the homeless to connect with people, have people  who want their services “look them in the eye, treat them with repsect and interest..making money based on their efforts, ingenuity and smarts. They had the chance to change their lives for the better, network, make connections, feel good about themselves, feel pride, make money, believe that things were changing for the good for themselves. They were involved in a experiment that could help them and others understand more about homelessness and digital media. They were innovators.”  

http://beckyblanton.com/2012/03/sxsw-homeless-hotspot-a-brilliant-idea/

What a load of bullshit. Does anyone do this with Big Issue sellers? Actually in fact, people who buy the Big Issue are people who want to help the cause of homelessness, enjoy the magazine, and treat people with respect regardless of their background. What is going to make people treat someone selling wi-fi any different to someone selling a magazine? The vendors, for want of a better word, are still going to be using their jokes to charm people to part their cash for the greater good, and the potential customers are still going to look at the floor and quicken their pace, clutching their bags. How exactly are they meant to make connections or ‘network’? It’s all a very Utopian perspective on something not just “a little” Dystopian (so says the New York Times), but really, rather a lot dystopian.

In a world where paperbacks are becoming eBooks, vinyl becomes mp3 and ‘designer’ babies are on the cards, and now people are used as vehicles for wi-fi connections, maybe I’m just a future-phobe and this is a natural process.

There was a time when people worried that people would be replaced by machines in industry, yet now it seems like the opposite is happening. And that’s worrying.

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