The Wall Street Journal's Phred Dvorak has a thought-provoking feature on the use of laptops and Internet services by homeless people, who, like everyone else, use them for civic engagement with politicians, social interaction, job hunting, and entrepreneurial pursuits.
Here's a prediction: in five years, a UN convention will enshrine network access as a human right (preemptive strike against naysayers: "Human rights" aren't only water, food and shelter, they include such "nonessentials" as free speech, education, and privacy). In ten years, we won't understand how anyone thought it wasn't a human right.
And even then, there will be destitute former music execs, living rough on the streets, using their laptops to argue that no, it's not a human right: you should be deprived of your Internet access if you're accused of copyright infringement, because the Internet is just a machine for making copies of trivial, copyrighted entertainment products.
"You don't need a TV. You don't need a radio. You don't even need a newspaper," says Mr. Pitts, an aspiring poet in a purple cap and yellow fleece jacket, who says he has been homeless for two years. "But you need the Internet..."
Shelter attendants say the number of laptop-toting overnight visitors, while small, is growing. SF Homeless, a two-year-old Internet forum, has 140 members. It posts schedules for public-housing meetings and news from similar groups in New Mexico, Arizona and Connecticut. And it has a blog with online polls about shelter life...
Aspiring computer programmer Paul Weston, 29, says his Macintosh PowerBook has been a "lifeboat" since he was laid off from his job as a hotel clerk in December and moved to a shelter. Sitting in a Whole Foods store with free wireless access, Mr. Weston searches for work and writes a computer program he hopes to sell eventually. He has emailed city officials to press for better shelter conditions...
Robert Livingston, 49, has carried his Asus netbook everywhere since losing his apartment in December. A meticulous man who spends some of his $59 monthly welfare check on haircuts, Mr. Livingston says he quit a security-guard job late last year, then couldn't find another when the economy tanked.
When he realized he would be homeless, Mr. Livingston bought a sturdy backpack to store his gear, a padlock for his footlocker at the shelter and a $25 annual premium Flickr account to display the digital photos he takes.