SF Techies take Poverty Porn to the Next Level

16 04 2014

Back when I worked in documentary film production, I worked with youth programs in the Tenderloin and East Oakland that taught young people how to tell their own stories via digital video, with an emphasis on giving students the tools to empower themselves with their own cultural agency.

With “Homeless GoPro“, SF techies appear to be doing quite the opposite:  literally strapping HD video cameras onto the chests of homeless people, instrumentalizing them as walking cameras to gather images for the techies.  Where is the authorship for the people with the cameras strapped to their bodies?

The project was founded by a “sociologist/entrepreneur” (isn’t that an oxymoron?), whose team includes a lawyer as well.  When I studied sociology in college, it was a lot of Marx and Durkheim.  How do you reconcile that with Silicon Valley techno-utopianism?  To quote sfgate:

Adler and his fellow techies aren’t sure what will come from their venture, but at the very least they want to connect more homeless people to the non-homeless world. That may mean strapping cameras onto a half-dozen more indigents. Or just arranging for those with money to spend a few bucks taking homeless people out for coffee.

Those with money taking homeless people out for coffee? The guy they strapped the camera to needs money for new teeth, much less a grande latte.  The entitlement and condescension are straight out of Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, but this is not a satire.

“Connecting more homeless people to the ‘non-homeless world’,” as if this utopian ‘non-homeless world’ didn’t play a role in forcing people out of their homes?

To add to the absurdity, the sfgate article quotes “the mayor’s point person on homelessness,” supervisor Bevan Dufty, who has consistently sided with property owners around issues of tenants’ rights.  Who better suited to run point on homelessness than he who plays an instrumental role in the disenfranchisement of renters in a city with trebling eviction rates?

Instead of turning homeless human beings into animated ethnographic tools for techno-voyeurism, why don’t we examine the role of growing economic inequality at a time when tech-based stratification is reshaping this city—and determining who can no longer afford a roof over their heads—at an alarming rate.

Why don’t the Techies turn the cameras on themselves to interrogate their own elitism and hypocrisy, and the role they are playing in forcing people out of the homes they’ve lived in for decades to make room for upscale condos for more tech elites? Or how they’ve leveraged the mayor to give tax breaks to tech companies who set up shop here, thus denying the city’s coffers enormous tax revenue that could be used to do a lot more for homeless people than take them out for coffee?

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