It’s A Homeless Man. It’s a Wireless Connection. No, It’s Both!

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.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

121 comments

Sheri P.
Sheri P.3 years ago

interesting...

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

It's good way to make a living, not having to beg on the streets. I do agree that the pay could have been better, but maybe it's a start of something new that will improve the lifes for a lot of people. Like Darlene M. : Been there.

Robert Tedders
Robert Tedders4 years ago

This is pretty disturbing to me in that it seems extremely exploitative. Shame on these people!!

Fen Drayton
Fen Drayton4 years ago

I'm inclined to think this is a pretty good deal, but am also thhinking the amount should be a bit more. It might be better to pay it out on a daily basis as well, because, (no insult intended) many homeless are addicts and this "wage" would be better spent on food or "proper" meds, than addictive relief. If you only have enough to get a sandwich, and not enough to buy booze or drugs, there stands a better chance it will be spent on food, than drugs. Some of these people have dogs too, so that money might help buy proper dog food.

David Noiret
David N.4 years ago

Am I missing something? A homeless person got money to do a job; A business paid money for a service. This happens to most people every day: work. Surely this is a good thing.

Scott Gurstein
Scott Gurstein4 years ago

Not a particularly bad idea, though I would prefer the individuals receive more than just 20 bucks. Maybe a couple of hundred dollars at least. I mean, come on!

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

If the people doing the hot spot are all right with it....then it is their choice. It does pay and they get tips. Not bad for some money when you live on the street.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

If the people doing the hot spot are all right with it....then it is their choice. It does pay and they get tips. Not bad for some money when you live on the street.

Darlene Matthews
Darlene Matthews4 years ago

Having been homeless, I can say these sorts of opportunities are generally much welcomed.
I almost want to laugh at the people who do little or nothing to provide real or good help
but have a lot to say about others who, in our defense, and without asking us , EXCEPT that those stepford hippies are often the ones using us to promote other causes or making work and salaries while providing sheer crap for services and help.
No I don't want to eat a mish mash of who knows what's in them and how old restaurant leftovers or accept foobank foods that could make me very ill from allergic reaction,or that are too outdated or too damaged to safely sell. Don't tell me if your hungry enough you'll eat it. I went 4 days without food and turned down McDonald's. I wasn't that hungry. dont offer us donuts and day old pastries . I say don't let them eat cake ! - we are going to die early enough as it is. I'm also not happy to maybe have to go to the ER again to survive the help. Try having food poisoning when you are homeless and not only don't know what what end to put towards the toilet, but cant get to a toilet - or a shower.... and no i do not want to PAY rent in a shelter staffed by the too often abusive unsupervised recently recovered to give them jobs. Call me picky. Cash to buy healthy food or things i need, h3ll yeah , heck I'd take a Ralph's card or Trader Joe's card or 99c Only store card for pay!

Darlene Matthews
Darlene Matthews4 years ago

Having been homeless, I can say these sorts of opportunities are generally much welcomed.
I almost want to laugh at the people who do little or nothing to provide real or good help
but have a lot to say about others who, in our defense, and without asking us , EXCEPT that those stepford hippies are often the ones using us to promote other causes or making work and salaries while providing sheer crap for services and help.
No I don't want to eat a mish mash of who knows what's in them and how old restaurant leftovers or accept foobank foods that could make me very ill from allergic reaction,or that are too outdated or too damaged to safely sell. Don't tell me if your hungry enough you'll eat it. I went 4 days without food and turned down McDonald's. I wasn't that hungry. dont offer us donuts and day old pastries . I say don't let them eat cake ! - we are going to die early enough as it is. I'm also not happy to maybe have to go to the ER again to survive the help. Try having food poisoning when you are homeless and not only don't know what what end to put towards the toilet, but cant get to a toilet - or a shower.... and no i do not want to PAY rent in a shelter staffed by the too often abusive unsupervised recently recovered to give them jobs. Call me picky. Cash to buy healthy food or things i need, h3ll yeah , heck I'd take a Ralph's card or Trader Joe's card or 99c Only store card for pay!