I experienced a moment of tech fatigue today when I read this in Shelf Awareness: “‘Do you hate turning your neck sideways to read book titles at libraries and bookstores? Or scrunching down as well to view lower shelves?’ If you answered yes to those questions, the ShelfLook iPhone app may be just what you’re looking for. It is designed to allow users to hold an iPhone horizontally and read titles on the screen.”
This means there are individuals who are so fed up with moving their necks that they’re going to download this app and pull out their phones every time they’re reading the spines in a bookstore instead of just slightly repositioning one, maximum two, body parts for a short time.
I’m not going to go on ad nauseam about how the existence of this type of app is what’s wrong with our society today . . . but it is pretty ridiculous, wouldn’t you say?
Almost two months ago at SXSW, a marketing company decided to outfit some willing members of the homeless community with WiFi devices, which would allow festival attendees to access the Internet in exchange for a suggested donation. Each hotspot holder kept all the money he/she earned.
When the media learned of this “experiment,” called Homeless Hotspots, many thought it was a dark, sci-fi-esque prank. But as the fact-finding arms of each publication groped further, they found it wasn’t a joke. And several bloggers verbally throttled the company, BBH Labs, for their exploitation of these people.
I agree with the initial assessment of the project, made by David Gallagher at the NY Times when he broke the story. On a few practical levels, it made sense. It allowed the homeless people who participated to earn money. It probably increased their sense of dignity and their confidence. It gave them an atypical venue in which to practice analytical thinking and interpersonal skills and develop perseverance. And it allowed SXSW goers to access the Internet.
The outcry focused on the T-shirts the men were given to wear and the language the company chose for them. The shirts began with, “I’m [name], a 4G Hotspot.” I value clarity and exactitude in communication, so I cannot ignore their choice of words. “I am a 4G Hotspot.” Translation: “I am an inanimate object.” BBH Labs could easily have reworded the T-shirts to say, “I’m [name]. I have a 4G Hotspot.” Or, “Need Internet access? I’m [name], and I can help you.” But it’s more important to be concise than respectful, right? And there’s only so much space on T-shirt. People can’t be bothered to read three or so more words.
However if someone were to argue that this critique was missing the point, I’d agree with her. The fundamental question we should ask here is, Was BBH Labs exploiting these men,* or was this a mutually beneficial relationship?
It’s clearly the latter. Yes, the company received local and national exposure, but the participants had an opportunity to earn money and exercise skills that employers look for. People viewed this from a singular perspective: Big Marketing Company Uses Homeless People for Increased Exposure and Blatantly Advertises How They Feel about Their Worth by Terming Them “Hotspots” Right on the Shirts They’re Wearing. Sure, I was swayed by that logic at first. But the more you dig—and, most important, the more you listen to the voices of the people who carried the hotspots—the more you realize this project was a step in the right direction, bull-headed word choices aside.
*Only men participated in the project, did they not? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t see or hear of a single woman participant.
I am so happy this story exists.
Update (5/16/12): The above link seems to be defunct, so here’s what I know about the story: It’s called “Apology + Opportunity” and was written by Gabe Durham for NANO Fiction‘s issue 3.2. In a mere paragraph, it charts the aggrandized love story of two camp attendees, as told through their benevolent and impassioned camp counselor. It’s like combining Wet Hot American Summer with McSweeney’s, shaking vigorously, and then concentrating the mixture into its purest form.
Update 2 (5/16/12): Triumph! I found the story; Denise Grollmus is the messiah of the Internet (I don’t care what Patrick Carney says).
I’m going to copy and paste the text below so I never have to experience the loss of such stunning verbal alchemy ever again:
Tommy, Janna, I’m going to stop you right there. Now when I say the feelings you’re describing are exceptional, I mean nuke the moon. Your account of the time spent between Tuesday’s kickball game and this evening when I happened upon you in each other—all I can say is wow and God bless and cherish it because for some of us, this has never happened. Have I been in love? I would hesitate and then say yes. But there is love and there is the ineffable mountain you’re scaling. To review: you two share the same favorite show, favorite movie, favorite band, favorite song, you both run track, and you both find camp a little immature. What I need to secure from you now are two swears on this copy of Camp Bylaws for the Hearty and True that you won’t let my misinformed intrusion dampen your beginnings. There’s an expression for the look you two are giving each other: Married in our Hearts. And when such looks are exchanged between two consenters age fifteen and up, the Lord winks and turns away. So too shall I. What happens next is: I’m going for a forty-minute nature walk. You will find my cabin unlocked.
Add to the list of things Americans would poo-poo (a bad pun and I haven’t even gotten started yet) if only they knew about them—squat toilets. I recently learned about this phenomenon, and my previous ignorance embarrasses and saddens me.
To the uninformed, the squat toilet appears to be a large floor drain. Some even look like bassinets built right into the ground for maximum convenience for both Mom and baby. But do not be fooled—these receptacles are for human waste and human waste alone.
The position required by the squat toilet seems to significantly reduce the strain that’s involved in defecating. Some sites I’ve read also say it’s more hygienic, but I’m not fully convinced of that.
Now, some visual delights.
Post to come: My unabashed love for bidets.
Sources: http://www.banterist.com/archivefiles/images/squat-toilet.jpg, http://www.naturesplatform.com/images/rb3.gif, http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/archive/2010/08/1_123125_2093564_2243695_2264310_100826_sci_squattn.jpg
I must write.
That’s all I know, and that’s why I started this blog. I have no idea if the subject matter I choose will be of any interest to anyone; I have no idea if these entries will be seen by anyone outside of the few friends I eventually plan on showing. I hope to stick to the nonfiction essay and write about topics that others could find interesting, but I can’t promise I won’t meander from this well-intentioned path and find myself waist-high in a swamp of diary entries. This blog manifesto itself could forever be a work in progress, but what isn’t? If you’re not changing, you’re dead.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about who I should be writing for. “Know your audience” is a popular writer’s dictum, but recently I’ve heard a few people say that they are writing for themselves. Not for an audience, not trying to please or even speak to anyone else—just writing what they want to write, how they want to write. Both arguments make sense to me, but I think I’m going to try out the latter mind-set and see what comes of it. If I ever have the luxury of having an audience, I may reconsider this approach.
I’d appreciate any constructive feedback you’d like to share.