A British advertising agency, BBH, is piloting a project that has homeless people acting as wireless hotspots. Yes, seriously. The service costs two dollars per fifteen minutes of use and the proceeds apparently go to the vagrants, bums, and hobos themselves. While helping the homeless is surely an under-emphasized priority through most of the western world, this is not what I believe Jesus had in mind when he said “Love thy neighbour”. The full quote is actually “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. So, if you’re outfitted with a wireless proxy server too, then congratulations future-man, you’ve proven me wrong before I even get started. As for the rest of us mostly flesh-and-blood organisms, hopefully it’s apparent that there are problems with this concept.
First of all, it’s far too expensive. Two dollars for fifteen minutes of mobile internet access is outrageous. Considering that you can buy a coffee at any number of cafes for the same fee and use the net for free as long you can nurse your beverage (without the smell of an unbathed router), this business model has no real advantages. Of course, other than being there for when you get that need to Tweet, but realize that despite the fact you’re obviously an internet-junkie, you don’t have a data plan, and find yourself willing to do absolutely anything to share your current moment of inspiration before you forget it. A moment that will either be read with as much consideration as a subway ad for “philosophy school” or buried in the mass of things no one actually looks at because all people are really doing on Twitter is advertising themselves.
Secondly, you have to talk to street people. I don’t know about you, but I generally find homeless persons extremely depressing. It’s as if there is no hope for them, but the thought of just letting anyone die is too much to take in mainstream society. So, we occasionally feel the need to help sustain their misery by sparing some change. Or in my case, buying them food and giving them smokes. My money is meant for my vices!
… All accurate sarcasm aside, this is the only positive element of the ad campaign.
Growing up in the Annex, my mother and I (mostly her) had frequent conversations with one impoverished gentleman named Gill. Every Christmas, we would give him a fifty dollar bill and occasionally he and I would play two-person Tetris at a divey coffee shop that used to occupy the corner of Walmer and Bloor. In fact, he’s the reason I’m such a pro at the game today.
Gill was a local icon. He was well-read and had robust, provocative opinions on almost anything you could throw at him. People would often become enveloped in twenty-plus minute conversations standing in front of the little alcove where he would sit on a milk crate and chain-smoke. He was almost always chatting with someone, though that didn’t stop passers-by from going out of their way to pleasantly acknowledge him. Eventually, someone found him an apartment directly above his spot. Then sometime later, he stopped begging. From what I’ve heard, he moved on for the better. This is exactly why we should converse with those homeless around us who are coherent.
Just because someone has left the boundaries of what we’re supposed to consider sustainable living doesn’t mean they have actually lost their worth. The greatest discoveries in life come from digging in and seeking to dispel your expectations.
However, the purpose of BBH’s campaign is not to help engage the poverty-stricken with the hipsters that surround them. They are doing this because it grabs attention… It grabbed mine, that’s for sure… These “Hotspot Managers” (that’s literally what they’re called) are serving one purpose, which is creating buzz. In that regard, it has more than succeeded.
The best quote from the BBC article that inspired this rant (hyperlinked to above) is surely:
“My homeless hotspot keeps wandering out of range,” wrote one [skeptic] before going onto add [that] “by literally labelling the person as a ‘hotspot’, you are priming an affluent, iPad-toting public to think of that person as a commodity”.
Also, how do we know a given homeless person is a hotspot? Do they have a sign? (If I were one, I know where I’d place a sign that read “Hotspot”). Are there interviews to make sure that these quasi-people will make suitable routers? If they have tinfoil hats, will that interfere with signal strength? Has BBH finally uncovered a way to employ the schizophrenic? I can only imagine how much discomfort this will lead to if the project takes off.
There is more to say about this, but I don’t want to give BBH the free promotion and/or energy of thought. If anything, this whole collapse of decency has brought up an important question: What are people who don’t “contribute” to society worth?
In Canada, we pride ourselves on our ever-diminishing social support structures. We’re supposed to care about human life over tax-rates and know that there is always hope for those who are less-advantaged as long as we’re there to help them. But few see homelessness in such a light. Unfortunately, the majority feel that if someone doesn’t have a mental or physical disability, they have no business not working.
To all of us who preach what we practice, I say this: Whether or not there’s medication for what ails us, we’re all fucked-up. We create excuses for our own behaviour (dating crazy people because they’re great lays, for example) then make snap judgements about others because we don’t share their affliction (“I don’t understand why that bum doesn’t just get a job”). People often intentionally sabotage their sensibilities for their current desires. This leads us to avoid doing what we’re told and know we should so we can feel independent.
Working sucks, living doesn’t, and paying people to stay on the streets as a viaduct to our technological addictions doesn’t help them lead a better life. It only perpetuates “the problem”.