Digital Hobo Etiquette: Reflections of a Wi-Fi Squatter

I would see them around the Loop when I worked downtown; kind of in the background and anonymous. I would try to avoid eye contact or look at them with disdain, depending on my mood. I am talking about digital hobos. A digital hobo, as I define it, is a person who does not have a Chicago Loop office but needs to come downtown periodically for meetings.

Between meetups, digital hobos need a place to hit the head, check email, surf, and update facebook just like normal Loop office workers. In search of free wi-fi and electric power for their laptops, they crash the picnic like some many unwanted ants.

I know of what I speak because after a 13-year Loop office presence, I am now a digital hobo. I hold office frequently with other DHs at Cafe' ROM and Cosi.

I am not going to define my favorite spots or where the power outlets are as not to alert my competition. A little known fact is that most coffee shops and restaurants only have one electrical outlet (where they plug in the vacuum) and the competition is fierce.

In my DH days these past few months, I have witnessed some good and bad behavior. My goal is to pass along some basic etiquette tips if you find yourself down and out in the Loop.

Always buy something. Your purchase amount should be proportional to the amount of time, power, and bandwidth you plan to suck up. A bottled water is not appropriate if you plan to spend five hours, participate in a conference call and download videos from You Tube. Even if you have no social conscience, keep in mind that if these businesses see their infrastructure costs rise but obtain no sales gain, they may close the wi-fi spigot for all of us.

Avoid the lunch rush. It is not optimal to try to transact business amidst the deafening roar of the lunch crowd when seating real estate is precious. It is also not fair to the establishment nor the other patrons who are spending more money than you and need a place to sit.

Resist manifest destiny. I went to a Panera for lunch recently and witnessed one of the worst displays of digital hobo gluttony and wanton disregard; the kind of stuff that gives us good DHs a bad name. At 12:00pm on a Thursday, this guy was all spread out in a four-person booth, mucking around on Facebook and yakking loudly on Skype via headset -- with only a long-empty latte' in view. Other patrons who had retrieved their lunch orders were standing around like carrion waiting for the next table to open up. They were dumbfounded by his display of self-fullness. If you must DH at lunch, buy some lunch and take a bar stool seat or at most a two-topper, not a booth.

Share power. If you are lucky enough to get a seat with a power adapter, charge your battery and then give up that seat once your fully charged, particularly if someone else is eying your location. If they have no power left on their laptop battery, offer to move and share the wealth; maybe they will do the next for you sometime. It's a "golden rule" thing.

Tip the staff. The benefit of having a climate-controlled place to office is high to in comparison to the cost of a coffee and a bagel, so make sure to remember your wait staff. It's just good karma and it avoids the hairy eyeballs.

Hope these tips help you to be a more responsible member of the digital hobo community.

Tom Reilly, Digital Hobo

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Second Life; we hardly knew you

I heard Second Life was starting to fade from popularity so I thought I better get out there before it was too late. Okay, so I was actually late for my first virtual meeting in Second Life. Does that mean I am virtually passive aggressive? This get together was through Dirk Tussing’s Learning Leader’s group and was hosted by the folks at Centrax. This is Ed Prentice's company that does a lot of good e-Learning and e-Marketing design work. They must be doing well, come to find out they own their own island in Second Life!

Before we talk about the meeting, I need to give some autobiographical context to my experience with with games and simulations. I was there at the beginning with pong and blew my allowance at the arcade playing Galaga and Missile Commander. I was never very good at video games but I loved playing them. Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, Half Life; I played them all. Then along came kids, a house to maintain, and too many startups and I fell off the train.

So I was a complete newbie to Second Life when I signed up for the virtual networking event. I went and tried to get familiar the night before - after a long day at work, a game of chutes and ladders with my son, and a big bowl of pasta I slumped on. Okay, so I didn’t get very well prepped. Luckily, my colleague Adam gave me a primer and it was pretty easy to get the basic movements down for walking and gesturing, etc.

Changing your appearance is a little more esoteric. I didn’t want to look really cookie cutter and lame so I found the menu to adjust my appearance. You just click on yourself and pick “Appearance” from the round menu and start exploring. It definitely plays into American narcissism. I was finally able to get normal size ears and get those six-pack abs I always wanted. You guessed it, everyone looks good in their Second Life. And judging from the complexity of some of the “Regulars” hairdos and outfits, some people are spending a lot of time there.

Last week we took part in a Virtual Peer-Networking Gathering in Second Life, a Executive Learning Exchange hosted by our friends at Centrax. This is a picture of our group.
We took part in a Virtual Peer-Networking Gathering in Second Life, an Executive Learning Exchange event hosted by our friends at Centrax. This is a picture of our group.

I met up with my colleague Adam and the other meeting attendees at a convenience store on Centrax Island, a really cool virtual environment the 3D designers at Centrax created. I met some interesting people there though I am not sure who they really were because their Second Life names appeared above them. We also flew to a floating “Star Wars-esque” platform in the sky. Yes, I said we flew. You can fly in Second Life. It connects viscerally with that dream of flying we have all had. I did crash a few times (think Greatest American Hero) until I learned to use the PgDn key to float down.

I was enjoying the tour of the sky platform but a guy walked up to me, probably to network. In an instant, my first person shooter instincts took over and I shoved him off the sky platform. Needless to say that ended our future networking opportunities. Later, in the tour, my colleague Adam showed me a virtual sweater he created in Photoshop that featured our Trifus logo. This was great. Virtual tchotchkes! He gave me one and after learning about getting gifts from others and then searching my inventory, and then a little more techno-intricacy, I was proudly sporting my Trifus sweater. Adam ended up giving out a couple extra sweaters to attendees. Good virtual marketing Adam!

As far as e-Learning applications, I could see it being a great 3D role playing tool particularly for people in retail or medical where they need to move around and have positive, proactive communications with customers or patients. This was just a light Second Life intro, as you may have read, there is a whole economic model based on Linden dollars. You can buy land, build buildings, have a career, get married. Wait, that’s my current crazy real life. Why would anyone want two crazy lives? Some people have more disposable time than I do.

Adam gave me one final tip near the end of the tour. When modifying your appearance, your underwear is supposed to go underneath your pants; not on top. Thanks again Adam.