So there’s been a lot of kerfuffle this week about the Homeless Hotspots at SXSW. The idea is basically to give homeless people wireless wifi devices via which they can then sell access to attendees of the music/technology festival. The people are $20 a day by the company and the suggested donation for access is $2 for 20 minutes.
The program upset a lot of people. They said it was dystopian fiction come to life: when our technology can’t keep up we turn the disadvantaged into infrastructure. Exploiting the poor! Encourage them to “beg” for $2 per connection. They called it reducing people to nothing but a hotspot. They called it selfish gall.
And these are probably the same people who would otherwise ignore the homeless on the streets of Austin while they bitch about not being able to get on the Internet anytime they want to tweet about their shoes. Waaa waaa waaa.
The idea was born of an advertising agency based in NY with English leadership. In the UK, it’s not uncommon to see the homeless population selling “The Big Issue” newspapers on the street for about £2. It’s not exploitive, it’s how they survive. It’s how they make money. And it pays a helluvalot more than standing at the street corner with a cardboard sign.
We don’t read newspapers anymore. We use the Internet. And at big events, or in public spaces, or big cities, there isn’t always enough WiFi to go around. I remember in New York, at Bryant Park, Google sponsored free public WiFi throughout the park. Access sucked. It was slow and spotty. It rarely worked. The choices were suffer a frustrating connection, or go pay for access at Starbucks instead of sitting outside on a beautiful day. Public WiFi is a long way off from being ubiquitously useful.
So I think Homeless Hotspots are a damn good idea. They bring the homeless population out of the shadows. People can’t ignore people as easily when they’re interacting with them to get to their precious Facebook feeds.
And it’s not exploitive. These people are being paid. At minimum $20 a day, full profit. That’s likely more than they get paid standing on the corner. That buys meals, toiletry supplies, some clothes at Goodwill. And on top of that baseline, they are out there selling services and making money. This is basic capitalism, and the capitalists are bitching about it.
These devices can typically support 5 simultaneous connections at a time. Let’s assume one particular fellow is really efficient at selling the service. At $2 per 15 minute connection, he can make $40 an hour. Even if they only sell it to one person at a time they’re still making $8 an hour - which is more than the minimum wage in Texas.
And it’s 100% profit. The folks in the UK have to pay for their papers before they can sell them. These guys are given the infrastructure to go help themselves for free.
Someone tell me why this isn’t an ideal model for helping the homeless moving forward? Explain to me why this shouldn’t be done on the 16th Street Mall in Denver or Pearl Street in Boulder or Times Square or Bryant Park in NYC.
My biggest issue with the whole thing is that despite the fact it’s a good idea doing good for people, it really was a publicity stunt for the advertising agency. It created buzz, and is therefore a success. The human benefit is really an unintended consequence, and they won’t be continuing the program after SXSW. In that respect, the detractors are right, the agency folks are rather smarmy. However, the idea is brilliant, and it would be fantastic if there were a way to actually make it a doable program outside of the microcosm of Austin’s HipsterLand.
Winter, I love you. We had some great times. Skiing again after 10+ years was phenom. And you really are a much more pleasant guest here in CO than you ever were in NYC. Looking forward to your visit next year, really, but frankly, get the hell out. Springtime is here and she and I are gonna gets our freak on.
Monday and Tuesday were absolutely beautiful and I totally got spring fever. Zach and I bailed on work for a couple hours and hung out reading on a coffee shop patio downtown. It was very nice indeed. And then it got cold again. And we got a little snow and ice. And I got sad. But now it’s warm again, like, mid-60s and 70s for the next week at least. And now I’m happy again. Apparently fickle is my thing this year.
Back in NY Spring meant relief from the cold dark dreary gray never ending winter. It was about 2 weeks of beautiful lounging in Central Park before the humidity came, and summer stormed in, and the next 6 months were sweaty and gross and we longed for fall. But in Colorado, it means something entirely different. It means long (dry) walks with the dog, it means hiking, and camping, and generally enjoying being outside without having to swelter or dig beach sand out of one’s ass.
I’m positively aching to get outside. This year is going to be all about hiking and camping. I already have spiffy new proper hiking boots. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of guidebooks about trails and campsites in Colorado, and have been refreshing all my old boy scout knowledge about living outdoors too. I’m seriously stoked. Yay Spring!
James: I got a fan letter, from a young lady. It was a suicide note. So I uh, I called her. I said, ‘Hey this is Jimmy Doohan. Scotty of Star Trek.’ I said, ‘I’m doing a con in Indianapolis. I want you to be there.’ I saw her and, I couldn’t believe what I saw. She was definitely suicidal. Somebody had to help her somehow. And obviously she wasn’t going to the right people. Anyhow I said, ‘I’m doing a convention two weeks from now in St. Louis.’ Two weeks from then and something and then she came to New York. And she was able to afford to go to these places. And this went on for two or three years. Maybe eighteen times. And all I did was talk to her, positive things. And then all of a sudden, ZIP. Nothing. I didn’t hear anything I didn’t know what was happening cause I never saved her address. Eight years later I get a letter saying, ‘I do want to thank you so much for what you did for me, because I just got my masters in electronic engineering.’ You know, to me, thats the best thing I have ever done in my life. And it brings tears to my eyes every time I even talk about the story.
Whenever you go to someone’s house for dinner, a party, whatever, it’s polite to bring something, right? These days a lot of people offer to bring something to contribute to the meal - a bottle of wine, dessert, whatever - though a small plant or some other random gift is normal too. We always get asked (and we always ask) “What can we bring?” and normally we (they) always answer “Nothing, no worries!” and then they (we) say in return, “too bad, we’re bringing something, so what can it be?” etc etc.
It’s all just customary. It’s all expected. Everyone knows the answer, it’s just like reaching for your wallet when you know the other person is paying - it’s a gesture. So since coming to Colorado Zach and I have been toying with a new tradition/concept/rule for when we host dinner parties. And it kind of turns this whole social nicety on its head.
Now we say, “well, you can bring a can of food for donating to the food pantry.”
See here’s the thing. Here we are, average middle class guys, inviting other average middle class (and upper middle class) friends over for dinner (or vice versa), to enjoy a nice meal. That meal can take an hour to prepare, depending on how adventurous I’m feeling. It can also cost $50 - $100, depending on the ingredients, wine, and cheese assortment of the night.
So if we’re spending all that time and money entertaining people who have food in their own refrigerators and roofs over their heads, isn’t it a bit, I dunno, shameful? to forget those who can’t feed their families every day or sleep outside?
Ergo, our little social experiment. We’ve done it very casually so far; we haven’t asked everyone who’s come over to do it, and we’re defaulting to suggesting it only when someone asks what they can bring. The reaction has been mixed:
Then we match the donation from something in our own pantry and/or do so whenever we host or go over to someone’s place.
It’s not much. It’s just a gesture. But as long as we’re making social gestures to each other for our own dinner parties, why shouldn’t those gestures make us remember those who can’t host dinner parties?
I hate the word “busy.” It’s such a nonword. It says nothing of value. It says “bugger off” or “I want to be alone” or “I can’t be bothered with you right now” while sounding important, as opposed to just being an asshole.
Told as a story, it’s a catch-all. A way of writing off an entire week’s work of work and stories and effort without actually describing one’s challenges and accomplishments. We use it to keep people at arm’s length.
It’s a shield. A way to not divulge too much, a way to hide what we’re working on, or as a way to mask what is actually a (perceived) boring life. When a person is asked “how’s your week been” or “How’s your day” and we respond with “Good. Busy, but good,” the polite thing to do is move on to other, impersonal topics. The thing we should be asking is “Busy with what?”
Why do we let ourselves get away with “busy” as if it means something. It doesn’t. We continue to allow our friends and family this little escape clause lest we actually, authentically have to care about the mundane ins and outs of lives. We are probably only reinforcing our “busy” by being “busy,” after all, in a community full of talent, there can and should be others to share the busy loads.
You may actually be “busy,” and want to leave it at that, or feel like I might not care about it. But if what you’re busy with is something within my skill set - designing campaigns, maintaing a web or marketing presence, or, I dunno, assembling a cheese plate - then maybe I can help. But I’d never know that if all we say to each other is “busy.”
I use “busy” all the time. Mostly because I’ve always felt like no one would really care about the ins and outs of my life when most have their own stuff going on. But I use “busy” to hold people at arm’s length, too, and that’s a failing.
So with Lent coming up this week, I want to strike “busy” from my vocabulary and if/when asked, be honest about what I’m actually up to. No fronts, facades or faux schedules. Let’s see where it goes.
This could be a pretty good year for equality: Washington is about to pass marriage equality, Prop 8 is teetering on the edge of destruction, things are looking good for civil unions (meh) in Colorado. People are starting to get it - the institution of marriage is meaningless unless it’s equally applied. By denying loving couples the equal rights and responsibilities of marriage, it basically says that marriage isn’t that important and so gay and straight people alike are, more and more, disregarding marriage.
Personally I believe marriage is a good thing. I believe in mine. It’s a good one. It’s real, it’s legal. Sometimes I don’t know how to get that across to people. Even in the gay community, especially now in Colorado where they haven’t had recognition of same sex marriage, we find ourselves explaining “no, we’re actually married.”
Thankfully I haven’t had to deal with right wingers saying “well not in this state,” yet. Because that wouldn’t matter. I’m legally married. The fact that Colorado doesn’t yet recognize that, or the federal government for that matter, doesn’t change the fact that I have a legally valid marriage certificate sitting in our safe.
People who have a problem with me and my marriage, are not my problem. Those family members who put dogma ahead of love, are not my problem. States who don’t “recognize” me as married, are not my problem. Their problem with my marriage doesn’t make me less married. It just creates a headache for them.
For those who have a problem with me, like certain family, have to either accept it or ignore it, and either apologize, or eventually pass away not having fulfilled their actual Christian beliefs. For the state, well, I have enough legal entanglements and loopholes that it just creates a headache for them.
I wish we could move past this. Zach and I are not destroying the foundations of society, and any educated person who spent a moment with a history book, or an objective theologian, would realize just how specious their arguments are. All we’re doing is living a loving life together, working on our passions, and hosting a small dinner party tonight for which I have to go prepare a cheese platter.