Homeless Hotspots

Have you named your WiFi router?  When I fire up my laptop near the campus of Cal Berkeley, I get lots of options.  I can join FrodoBaggins, 20 different versions of 2WIRE, Skynet, ChickMagnet (I doubt its effectiveness) and even a few that are so offensive I can’t print them here (seriously people, network names are broadcast publicly! What is wrong with you?)

I always thought it was clever to give the router a distinct name.  BBH New York has gone way beyond that.  At South by Southwest, they have homeless men walking around the conference offering mobile WiFi.  Yes, you read that right, these guys are living, breathing mobile hotspots.  It’s not a clever name for a router, it’s a human being with a hotspot strapped to him (more likely just tucked away in his backpack or pocket), and a T-shirt declaring  “I’m Clarence, a 4G hotspot.”

BBH touts it as the evolution of homeless newspaper sales.  The proceeds from the sale of WiFi are used as a form of income for the men offering the service.  The pundits are already barking back and forth.

Clarence's profile photo from http://homeslesshotspots.org

I don’t think you can settle this one without talking to Clarence or Jason or Dusty (which someone actually did).  But since so much of the outrage developed before anyone bothered asking the “hotspots” what they thought, we should be asking what is making people so uncomfortable. Are the SXSW attendees really up in arms over unjust treatment of the homeless or about the fact that they’re uncomfortable to suddenly be involved in it?

I feel fine exploiting a Linksys router to get a fast fix of the information superhighway.   When I’m hooked into the hyperactive world of the Internet it’s easier to ignore the harsh reality of our broken and unjust world. The jarring loss of that blissful ignorance might explain a whole lot of the wailing that surrounds homeless hotspots.  It’s harder maintain your ignorance of our worlds serious systemic issues when you’re streaming the NCAA tournament from a homeless man named Jason.

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