When BBH Labs of New York decided to give homeless men in Austin $20 apiece to wander around the city during South By Southwest and offer to be mobile hotspot connections for the music fans and techies descending on the city, they knew they’d get a ton of buzz.
But it appears they didn’t expect it to be so negative.
“When the infrastructure fails us… we turn human beings into infrastructure?” asks the New York Times.
Plenty of criticism of the project was published. But is the derision totally merited? BBH compares the idea to the modern version of the “street newspaper” that the homeless are encouraged to sell to passersby in order to bring in a few dollars, and in a digital age where newspapers are both costly and create mass waste, selling bandwidth is, after all, a more consumer and environmentally friendly option.
As Alternet notes after speaking to a “hotspot” named Mark, he considers himself to be an entrepreneur, able to run his own business without any start up costs or complicated directions. “It’s your company…What you bring in is what you bring in. They bought the devices, they’re allowing us to use the devices to bring in our own revenue.”
The writer was less than impressed, stating that “when you actually own your own business, no one takes away your supplies after four days.”
However, when you own your own company, you don’t usually have your supplies given to you free of charge. As anyone who’s ever looked at a franchisee contract knows, the initial investment is always considerable.
Should the homeless be “harnessed” to act as bandwidth providers for those who are more affluent? Of course not. But is the project really a case of evil marketers prostituting the disadvantaged to make a quick buck? Not necessarily. After all, allegedly one aspect of the campaign was to get more people talking about the homeless rather than treating them as invisible.
The “homeless hotspot” certainly succeeded at that.
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