Thursday, December 19, 2013

On poverty, internet, and cell phones

Poor people are on twitter.  This is a known fact, it has been studied.  I'm not sure if it has been studied enough, but like gravity it's one of those established facts you can pretty well count on.  Drop an unsupported rock and it will fall, take a census of twitter and there will be poor users.

The reason that I say I'm not sure that it's been studied enough is that poor people are not underrepresented on Twitter.  For an incomplete list of places where poor people are underrepresented, consider:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Movies
  • Books
  • Almost anything else
So perhaps someone should look into whatever it is that twitter is doing right and try to adapt it to elsewhere, but that's not the point.

The point is: poor people: twitter haz them.

Now this can be a problem if you're going to write a screed about how twitter sucks and use poor people not being represented as part of it.  It's not the only problem with the screed in question.  As just one example of another problem it had the phrase, "third wavers whose postmodern indoctrination have[sic] them believing feminism is a series of made-up words," that's right third wavers, Meghan Murphy doesn't approve of you, you're brainwashed, and you spew gibberish.

But sticking with poverty.  The article isn't about poverty, "poverty" appears not a once and "poor" only to say that poor people aren't on twitter.  The article isn't trying to help poor people, it's trying to use poor people.

So let's talk about poor people and internet access for a moment, something the article neglects in favor of blanket assertions (that happen to be false) under the cover of asking a question and then answering with, "I’m preeeetty positive..."

Phones are pretty vital if you want to stop being poor without starting a glass blowing studio in the abandoned sewer furnaces you had the incredible luck to stumble across.  This is because most jobs require one to have a phone.  They call you, if you are not there to be called the job does not go to you, you don't get the job.

If you want a job then a phone is more important than having a warm place to stay.

Thus a lot of poor people, though by no means all, have phones.  Phones with internet are better still, they allow you to contact people in a variety of ways and if you're, say, looking for a place to stay while the blizzard blows through social networking is your friend.  Plus networking can help you get a job too.

Treating phones as luxury items ignores the fact that they're necessities.  Not everyone has necessities, that's part of why we have so much pain going around in the world.  A world where everyone could be guaranteed necessities would still be far from a perfect world, but it would be a lot closer than this one.  When you don't have something that is necessary that is damaging.  That's, sort of but not exactly, what it means to be a necessity in the first place.

But even if you're saying, "Well, there are people too poor to have phones," and then redefining the word "poor" to mean, "too poor to have a phone," where everyone else previously defined as poor is just part of the sometimes starving, sometimes homeless, sometimes both middle class, you still don't get to say that there are no poor people on twitter.

Things vary from place to place.  This is undeniable.  But given that there's poverty in a lot of places we can still talk about what is available to some of the poor while understanding that it isn't available to all poor people.

So free public libraries with internet access.  This was not my chosen example; it was from someone on the other side of this disagreement.  Free public libraries with internet access allow people who cannot afford a phone, but are still literate, to access the internet and thus twitter.

If we're talking about poor people in general, there are poor people who can access twitter.

If we're talking about people too poor to, say, have a home, some of them have smartphones.

If we're talking about people too poor to have any kind of phone, there are still some of them who can access twitter.

Which means that if you, non-poor person, are going to write a screed on why twitter sucks, leave poor people not having access out of it.  Of all the forums we have thus far invented twitter, even though I don't actually care for it all that much, is doing a stand out good job of letting poor people have their voices heard.

If you claim otherwise you're not trying to help poor people, you're trying to use poor people.


  1. This is a good post.

    I hope you're studying too.

  2. Treating phones as luxury items lets you charge more for them than if you treated them as necessities of life.

    1. It also lets you claim that anyone who has one either isn't really poor or is responsible for their poverty because LOOK AT THAT LUXURY ITEM. It's not just about profit, it's very much about rationalizing a lack of empathy too.

  3. It's easy to judge people based on their "luxuries". How many times have you seen a poor person with the latest phone and thought "they would have more money if it weren't for their phone?". But we're wrong in thinking this way. Technologies, including advance internet and phones can actually help us out of poverty. They offer many benefits. For example, oil and gas companies are arguably one of the most profitable businesses. With the help of satellite internet and other technologies, oil and gas communications can be improved significantly. Improved communication will allow people to find new resources to further help them to make a profit.

  4. Having a good phone, good internet, really goes along with the excellent-yet-often impossible advice of "fake it til you make it/dress for the job you want to someday have." As a not-especially-poor person I kind of screwed this up. If I had a phone with internet and GPS, I would have been more valuable as a contractor, and gotten lost less on the way to interviews and job sites. A small investment of money and time could have really paid off. But I DID NOT HAVE the money, and making the time would have been extremely difficult, and would have meant sacrificing something else, maybe for a job I couldn't do with young kids...

    As Chris has mentioned elsewhere, keeping things like a place to live, utilities, a phone with at least some capabilities, etc. isn't super-challenging every month if your circumstances don't change drastically. But GETTING those things when you don't have them, or getting them back when you've lost them, is DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE, because of all the upfront costs in money and effort.

  5. I am going to point out as someone without a car that Twitter can be useful for finding out what local transit routes are currently being detoured that aren't mentioned on the website because whatever happened wasn't something planned, e.g a tree taking out a power line for trolleys or a major accident on a bus route. Heck, that's the main reason I have it.

  6. Have the people who insist that "phones are an unnecessary luxury" got their knowledge of working class job seeking from Chaplins' shorts? And never updated it since dialogue in the movies? The total disconnect from reality would be hilarious if it weren't so actively perpet(r/u)ated.