Demonstrating the innovation for which the festival is known, the SXSW Interactive debuted the latest exciting update to American guilt abatement by turning Austin’s homeless people into walking wi-fi routers through a program known as Homeless Hotspots. The experiment in maximizing the data servicing potential of itinerant hosts—a.k.a. homeless people—is the brainchild of marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who recruited local homeless folks and outfitted them with T-shirts (as seen above) that bear their name, followed by the identification that they are a 4G Hotspot and information on how you can use them. Accessing their services leads to a page with a pay-what-you-wish suggested donation of $2 for every 15 minutes of access, which then goes directly to the person whose body is facilitating you checking your email. Actually talking to that person is similarly optional.
Naturally, there have been a few naysayers—with various critics calling it dehumanizing, dystopic, or exploitative, and all done in the name of garnering fleeting buzz at a conference built on fleeting buzz. But BBH, in its defense, has been very respectful of those criticisms, acknowledging (some of) the program's faults, and denying anything but the best intentions. Yet they see Homeless Hotspots as simply a digital upgrade of the well-ingrained “street newspaper” model, in which homeless people sell copies of papers such as Street Sense and, in BBH’s estimation, mostly do so out of guilt. And with their upgrade, that guilt is now much easier to deal with in a transaction made from afar and at faster speeds, without the old-model interference of human engagement or empathy.