Report: Jerk in Pasadena May Have Swindled Homeless iPhone-Line Sitters

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 20 2013 6:48 PM

Report: Jerk in Pasadena May Have Swindled Homeless iPhone-Line Sitters

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Londoners in line for the iPhone

Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images

Today, a customer in Pasadena, Calif., reportedly swindled nearly 100 homeless people by offering them money to stand in line for the new iPhone—and not delivering on his promise.

According to an interview posted on YouTube, an unnamed man promised to give $40 to each person who stood in line all night at the Apple Store, where the new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c went on sale today. Paying someone to queue up ahead of the release of a new gadget is a real thing: The company Task Rabbit suggests that it’s worth about $14 an hour. Presumably the Pasadena homeless people assumed that eventually, someone would take their place in line and pay them. But many never got the $40. In the YouTube interview, one man describes his feelings after the experience: “The only thing I’ll be able to do now is …  hope something else just decides to come by and give me an opportunity to get some income.”

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It's impossible for us to verify the story. But nevertheless, it symbolizes the extent to which technological innovations, and the services that accompany them, can exacerbate the income gap. In Silicon Valley, for example, these inequalities are apparent even in the reportedly poor treatment of drivers who shuttle Google employees to and from work. Forget the excitement around the gold-colored iPhone 5S. The conversation that we need to have is why, on the same week that new Census data show that the poverty rate did not change last year and the House voted to cut 3.8 million Americans off of food stamps, anyone might feel OK about tricking homeless people into standing in line for a phone that starts at $550.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Rebecca Shafer is a program associate at the New America Foundation. Follow her on Twitter.

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