Aug. 17, 2012 at 8:25 PM ET
A study by sociologist Art Jipson at the University of Dayton finds that many homeless people are highly engaged in social media, despite very limited access to the internet. Such sites provide them with valuable information and companionship regardless of their social status.
Jipson hosts a local radio show about music and sociology, and one day asked a caller's location. The caller, as it turned out, was homeless, but still clearly engaged in social pursuits like this one. The event started Jipson thinking that perhaps this phenomenon was more widespread than anyone suspected.
He interviewed more than a dozen of the local homeless community, and found that they had made allowances in their austere lives for cellphones, Facebook and other modern tech strongly associated with more middle-class users.
Many of the interviewees had more than 100 friends on Facebook, and as one rightly points out himself, why shouldn't that be? "My family is on Facebook. My friends are on Facebook. People who care about me are on Facebook," he said.
Another interviewee said that using the Internet and Facebook allows them to interact with others without worrying about the stigma of homelessness coloring the conversation: "No one on the 'net cares if I didn't get a shower yesterday or smell some. They don't judge me, you know? … I feel accepted. I am accepted."
Jipson presented his paper, entitled "Shall I Paint You a Protest: Marxist Analysis of Social Media," Friday at the 107th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. For more information, see the release announcing the work.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.