03.13.12

“An honest day of work and pay.”

Posted in at 9:55 by RjZ

That’s what Clarence had to say about his gig at SXSW conference this week. Clarence is a human WiFi hotspot. and he’s making people uncomfortable.

It’s not Clarence, really, but the marketing company who came up with the idea to outfit some local homeless volunteers with WiFi transmitters and have them walk around the crowded SXSW conference offering up extra bandwidth for the digerati. Apparently, folks found this exploitive.

I assume it’s exploitive because the folks are homeless. Had the job been open to anyone, and people been able to choose this service based only on its availability without any thought to who is offering it, that would have been normal. As the linked article and commenters point out, that’d be like a waiter who is paid very little to work 15 hours a day in the hopes of tips.

But no one hires (as far as I know–hey this may be a marketing opportunity) strictly homeless waiters. Still, people are hired on their demographics alone. I don’t think Hooters will give me a job even if I show up in bright orange hot pants (even though I have been told I have nice legs, I think they’re a bit hairy for the requisite Hooters stockings).

Hiring based on characteristics to promote something is an accepted, if morally shaky, practice. This is no different. If it truly is exploitive, then at least it creates real benefits, raises awareness, and might even help create connections between those it exploits and those who use the service. I am not so sure Hooters can make any of these claims.

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