SAN ANTONIO - Homeless wireless hotspots
are the big controversy this year at SxSW up in Austin. About a dozen homeless people have earned money serving as Internet "hotspots" during a music, film and interactive festival.
His shirt reads: “I’m Clarence. A 4 G hotspot. SMS HH Clarence to 25827 for access.”
The new service uses the homeless to sell internet access via roaming hotspots. Homeless people are outfitted with 4G hotspots, and users pay what they like to access the internet. All proceeds paid for access go directly to the homeless person selling the access.
The recommended homeless hotspot donation is $2 for 15 minutes of usage. You make donations via Paypal.
Tim Nolan with BBH says the advertising agency knew Monday's experiment could be provocative.
One homeless participant, Clarence Jones, says he did not feel exploited and was doing his job.
But the backlash was quick to develop.
New York Times reporter David Gallagher blogged: “It is a neat idea on a practical level, but also a little dystopian. When the infrastructure fails us… we turn human beings into infrastructure?”
In the Twitterverse, people quickly weighed in on dehumanizing nature of the #homelesshotspot, which started trending on Sunday.
“This is my worry: the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future, so long as it can score a point or two about digital disruption of old media paradigms,” wrote Wired magazine’s Tim Carmody. “So long as it can prove that the real problem with homelessness is that it doesn’t provide a service.”
“Anyone else find using homeless persons as “Homeless Hotspots” at SXSWi disturbing, dehumanizing, offensive?” suggested attendee Anniina Jokinen.
South by Southwest runs through Sunday.