If corporations are people, does that mean that homeless people can be hotspots? BHH thinks they can. I beg to differ.
A marketing agency, BBH, hired homeless people to walk around carrying mobile Wi-Fi devices at a technology conference, promoting what it hoped would be an appealing idea: homeless hot spots. Calling it a "charitable experiment," BBH argues that it is simply trying to develop a new digital age alternative to "street newspapers."
So what's the problem? Homeless people and technology are not incompatible. In fact, homeless people often rely on email at public libraries as a way of connecting to vital resources such as jobs and services.
Street newspapers serve an important purpose too. They are a source of revenue for the homeless vendors who sell them, and a source of information about homelessness, serving an educational purpose. They provide a measure of dignity to both the vendor and the buyer.
In contrast, using homeless people as mobile hotspots emphasizes the dehumanizing effects of homelessness itself. The reality is that homeless people are already treated as "part of the landscape" or, worse, as detritus to be swept away. As documented in numerous studies, people living on the street are routinely subjected to laws and police actions meant to remove them from public sight.
The hotspot "experiment" makes this type of dehumanization acceptable. It says: "Hey, homeless people are out there anyway; why not turn them into a marketing opportunity for our cool new product?" A product that sends no message other than enhancing the convenience of the user -- and the profits of the company.
In that sense, it's the perfect metaphor for our nation's upside-down priorities: corporations are people, while homeless persons are vehicles for corporate use.
But BBH isn't really the problem. The problem is that we've allowed the homelessness crisis to persist for so long that it now seems normal to have people living in the street, in parks, or in doorways. It's become acceptable. And until we make ending homelessness -- ensuring the basic human rights and dignity of all people -- a true national priority, that's not going to change.
The BBHs of the world will continue to distract us with their disturbing "experiments."
Follow Maria Foscarinis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NLCHPhomeless