“Hi, I’m Caleb and I’m a 4G hotspot.” While a creative idea, and most certainly a way for the homeless population in Austin to make some extra money, is it really worth the message they are sending to potential customers? And does it reflect positively on South By Southwest? But most importantly, is it even ethical behavior?
Perpetuating the stigma of homelessness
There is already a negative stigma surrounding the homeless populations in most cites and countries, but now we are making it even worse by exploiting the group’s state of desperation. How embarrassing it must be for these individuals – in many ways, no better than holding out an empty Styrofoam coffee cup asking for change. Some might say I am not being progressive enough with my thought process. But if being progressive means exploiting our homeless populations to benefit the already privileged and overly connected population, then I don’t want to be progressive.
Try on their shoes for a moment
For the sake of empathy, I used my younger brother’s name in the first sentence of this blog post. Caleb could be homeless had his cards been stacked differently in life. All of us could be. But we aren’t. We are lucky, fortunate, blessed – whichever one falls in line with your particular belief system. So fortunate in fact that the lines have become so blurred for us that we cannot distinguish what human behavior is appropriate and what human behavior is inappropriate. Turning homeless individuals into Wi-Fi hotspots, I’m afraid, is far beyond inappropriate. It’s downright careless.
Where is the buy in?
Yes, the extra money is nice I am sure. But let’s take a look at the systemic problem with homelessness. Is paying these individuals $20 a day to become walking, talking Internet machines really helping the homeless? Is it really getting to the root of the problem? No. Show me an idea that pays the homeless $20 a day to work, develop a skill set, and foster abilities they will help get them off the streets. Now that’s an idea I will buy into.
According to ABC News, it looks like other folks are having trouble with the buy in factor as well. After following one homeless man around for almost an hour, not one person took advantage of the Wi-Fi hotspot. Was it guilt? Shame? Or maybe even something far worse? “I am not using Wi-Fi that is coming from a homeless person? That’s gross.” Either way, the thought process is not natural because the act is not natural. These people are human beings, just like you and I. Let’s step out of our self-involved, internet-obsessed lives for a moment and acknowledge this simple fact. Shame on South By Southwest for employing such a cavalier tactic.
Just ask Paula
This example begs the larger question, “Is all press good press?” And the very simple answer to that question is “No.” I hate to use such a glaringly obvious and contested example, but Paula Deen pretty much stole the show with “bad press” this summer. Some may argue this fact, but the proof is in the pudding (bad-um ching). My apologies for the terrible pun. In all honesty though, whichever side you take on the popular Paula Deen debate, it is tough to deny that all of the negative press has ultimately hurt the celebrity and will be next to impossible to recover from.