Bartle Bogle Hegarty is Running a human experiment called Homeless Hotspots

I know. My eyes crossed when I read that sentence too. On many levels my cells just scrambled with the very idea of such a thing. But if you read the whole article below, you will find at the bottom an interview with a human hotspot, who has nothing but positive things to say about it all. Please read the full article by Jon Mitchell here. A very well organised article that lays out how mind-twisting the whole idea is to begin with. It really strikes a chord for me right now as we struggle with a sudden increase in electromagnetic frequencies from the eight wireless smartmeters recently installed below us.

I guess the question that pops to my mind about the whole thing is if Bartle Bogle Hegarty also include a hefty health insurance deal in their contracts for all the future cancer their human hotspot is gonna have to deal with later. I know BC Hydro has no intention of covering health treatments for any of us.

SXSW In A Nutshell: Homeless People As Hotspots

South By Southwest 2012 can be summarized thusly: An impossibly-named marketing company called Bartle Bogle Hegarty is doing a little human science experiment called Homeless Hotspots. It gives out 4G hotspots to homeless people along with a promotional t-shirt. The shirt doesn’t say, “I have a 4G hotspot.” It says, “I am a 4G hotspot.”

You can guess what happens next. You pay these homeless, human hotspots whatever you like, and then I guess you sit next to them and check your email and whatnot. The digital divide has never hit us over the head with a more blunt display of unselfconscious gall.

Is This For Real?

This story took a while to break because many Internet residents didn’t believe it was true. An understandable reaction. Pitch-perfect satire often strikes the exact same agonizing chord as the real, terrible truth.

It most assuredly is real, though. Here’s a sample of BBH’s blog post announcing the “experiment:”

One particular aspect we find intriguing is Street Newspapers, which are print publications created and sold by homeless populations as a form of entrepreneurial employment. The model has proven successful enough to be adopted in cities spanning 30 countries. The issue however, is that like any print publication, these newspapers are under duress from the proliferation of digital media. How often do you see someone “buy” a paper, only to let the homeless individual keep it? This not only prevents the paper from serving as a tool for the individual to avoid begging, but it proves how little value people actually place on the publication itself. Yet the model isn’t inherently broken. It’s simply the output that’s archaic in the smartphone age.

So we decided to modernize it. -Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The Problem

The Homeless Hotspots website frames this as an attempt “to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations.” There’s a wee little difference, though. Those newspapers are written by homeless people, and they cover issues that affect the homeless population.

By contrast, Homeless Hotspots are helpless pieces of privilege-extending human infrastructure. It’s like it never occurred to the people behind this campaign that people might read street newspapers. They probably just buy them to be nice and throw them in the garbage.

When I asked Tim Nolan and Saneel Radia from BBH Labs about this difference, Radia interpreted my question this way: “I think your point was, street newspapers are content-driven and the hotspots idea is not content driven. Is that correct?”

Well, that’s a little more SXSW-sounding than what I said, but, “Basically, yes,” I told him.

“I’ll be honest,” he said. “My preconceived notions about street newspapers was that they weren’t an effective model, because I have a visual in my head, living in New York City, watching thousands of people walk by street newspaper vendors ignoring them.”

“The few times that I’ve done it, I give a dollar and let them keep the paper.”

That’s what I had figured. Radia agreed that worker-created content is important for a direct campaign to help the homeless, but he insisted that it was priority number three.


Priority number one is “social engagement,” surely a worthy one. This campaign, like traditional street newspaper campaigns, makes homeless people visible by creating an opportunity for a conversation. I look forward to talking to some of these mobile hotspot workers now that I know they’re out there.

Priority number two is the daily income provided by the service. I never suspected otherwise, but “just to be 100% clear,” Radia said, “everything they sell, they keep. We’re underwriting all the costs of this. This is utterly not for profit. The goal is for these people to make their own money.”

“These guys think of this in a very entrepreneurial way,” Radia said.

Then why do their t-shirts say “I am a hotspot?”


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