The temperature at this year's SXSW technology conference isn't the only thing that's hot in Austin, Texas this week. Along with a slew of hot people and their ideas and services, Austin's homeless population has become a hot commodity in more ways than one. Equal parts constructive and controversial, the need for greater internet accessibility on the streets of Austin has been met. The employment of the local homeless as internet hot spots has made for a heated source of debate.
Proponents (some of which are the homeless themselves) argue that this not only provides the necessary service of wider access to wireless internet, but that it also gives the employees an income (albeit temporary) and the ability to socialize and interact at what is, after all, a landmark interactive and social conference. Contrastingly, the message evoked from the printed T-shirts that say "I'm Holly, a 4G Hot Spot," may not sit so well with the general public.
In thinking about the very topic of SXSW's technology conference, it seems fitting that it would be a breeding ground for what some may see as off-beat ideas. It is perhaps the prime environment for stretching the limits of what is possible and pursuing new ways of doing so. However, using people, and in this case, homeless people, inevitably begs the question of just how far we can push and pull our resources.
The concept may have been more palatable to the public of social media gurus had the target demographic been advertised as the jobless rather than as the homeless. It would only take one white-board venn diagram to see the huge overlap between the two. Perhaps concentric circles would be more accurate -- the homeless community is likely to be encompassed within the jobless community. By casting the net of eligible people wider (perhaps while upping the advertising ante at homeless shelters), the people behind the "homeless hot spots" may have saved themselves the criticism and been painted as innovators with a social conscience rather than as dehumanizing, internet-bubblers.