How Do You React to Poor People?
Panhandling Project Explores Attitudes Toward the Poor
Are you more likely to give money to a panhandler holding a sign or to someone who asks you for money? Would it make a difference if one were a man and the other were a woman? A member of a minority group?by Nicole Wallace
NeedCom, a new Web site that describes itself as "market research for panhandlers," uses technology to encourage visitors to examine their attitudes about panhandling, homelessness, and poverty.
Visitors to the site first see and hear six panhandling pitches, and are asked to rate each one by deciding how much money, if any, they would give. (The site provides written transcripts for people whose computers don't have sound.) After responding to all six requests, users see how their responses compare to those of others who have answered the survey. In the first two weeks the site was available, more than 8,500 people completed the survey.
Visitors are then asked pointed questions about their attitudes toward panhandlers. For example, would they be more likely to give to someone who tried to entertain them or to someone who just asked them for help? Users can also read interviews with the 11 panhandlers who participated in the project and post their own views on the subject.
Cathy Davies, a photographer and Web designer, first thought of the idea for NeedCom when she started to wonder whether the panhandlers she encountered thought strategically about how they asked for money. At the same time, she realized that she had developed her own ways to decide whether to give.
Ms. Davies says she wants to give visitors to NeedCom the opportunity "to go through the same thinking process that I did" about panhandling and to analyze "what decisions are being made, unconsciously or consciously, about the whole process."
NeedCom is a project of Web Lab, a New York Foundation for the Arts program that supports innovative Web sites on social issues. Web Lab works with the Public Broadcasting Service to select and produce the projects, and is financed by the Ford Foundation and several family foundations.
TO GET THERE: Go to http://dipsy.pbs.org/weblab/needcom
Try it out, and see what you learn about yourself. Tell your experiences to The Progress Report:
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