Sunday, March 08, 2009

Paradox of Poverty in a Sea of Content and Communication

Robert Waldmann put up a post at Stochastic Thoughts called Homeless Man with Cell Phone responding to some attempt by Andrew Malcolm to be snarky which only revealed him to be gormless. You should read the whole thing as Robert attacks a Right meme that goes back to Reagan era days, that you can't really be poor if you own a TV or eat at MacDonalds. Or in this case own a cheap cellphone. This just shows such cluelessness about the realities of poverty in America where often poor people can't afford to live cheaply. That is it is more expensive to live in a run down residential hotel than it does to live in an apartment, it can cost more to buy and maintain a series of beaters than it would to finance a nice used economy model. But sometimes you just can't get over the credit hurdle. While you can buy a $10 cell phone with pre-paid minutes and then pay as you go.

But the whole thing got me thinking about a topic I have been mulling over a while. Me from comments:

Robert someone should write a post about the paradox of communication and content in the 21st century.

I am struck when watching footage from overseas whether that be Africa or Asia that cell phones are almost ubiquitous in even the poorest neighborhoods. And while I suspect they don't have the same data plan I have in my iPhone we are not that far away from a world where remote villages and slums don't have access to secure food supplies or clean water but via a solar powered communal TV and a crank up PC have access to information from around the world.

Europe has a project to put all of its greatest cultural resources online and many government and major research libraries are committed to getting as much of their collections online as well.

Is this heaven or hell? I mean it is somewhat hellish to think of some Sudanese kid orphaned by rebels and hoping that the UN aid people will return one day still being able to wander the virtual halls of the Louvre and browse the stacks at the L of C. On the other hand I am on the verge of selling my 2 BR condo (in which I live alone) with plans to move to a small studio. Because as long as I have access to high-speed internet, a microwave, and a refrigerator my needs are pretty much met.

Part of this is a desire to get a little more green and reduce my carbon footprint, but a lot of it is because I don't need to have eight book shelves double stacked with books anymore, or a record collection, or racks of floppy drives, or boxes of pictures, and I can save a bunch of green by not having to set aside living space for such things.

Given the economy I too might end up living out of my car, but one way or another I will still have access to the internet. We seem to be entering an era where all things are flipped. Once only the wealthy could afford fine art and books and travel, these days those may all the poor can afford going forwards (admittedly the travel being virtual).
To which Robert responded

Alternative title -- "George Orwell Might Say."

Some decades ago, during the great depression, Orwell noted that poor people in his day didn't have access to necessities, but they did have access to luxuries. Said luxuries included Hollywood films and carryout junk food.

We've gotten used to the idea that people who watch actors on tv and eat in McDonald's aren't necessarily rich. Even the idiot conservatives among us will get used to the idea that people will cell phones aren't necessarily rich some time soon.
On a related note people marvel that poor people buy Lotto tickets. Don't they know the odds? Don't they have children that need better food and clothing? Well they may not really understand the odds but they know not everyone is getting rich off the lotto. When you are poor and buy a ticket what you are buying is a dream, if you are underpaid or out of work and unable to afford to take your kids to the multiplex odds are you can afford a cheap color TV for the kids even with the exorbitant monthly bills (even for basic cable) and you can take that lotto ticket and spend hours thinking what you would do with it if and when.

Yet wealthy people who think nothing of dropping a few hundred dollars on concert tickets with $15 Apple Martinis after the show all for just a couple of transient hours of entertainment begrudge the poor the ability to watch TV and dream of striking it rich.

The combination of ignorance and mean-spiritedness would be stunning. Except that this kind of "Let them eat cake" attitude has gone on forever.

1 comment:

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