Because Apple fans love their iProducts so ardently, they have often attributed to Steve Jobs and Apple almost every positive quality they want to see in a CEO and a company, whether deserved or not. Thus, they have assumed that Apple reduces its energy use, recycles its electronic waste, treats its workers well, and generally is a socially responsible corporation.
Toward the end of Jobs’ reign, fans gradually and grudgingly began to realize that their heroes didn’t deserve all those haloes.
Now, ironically, Jobs’ successor, Timothy Cook, may turn out to be the real hero of the myth.
This week marks one year since Jobs stepped down as CEO. He would die just six weeks later. During the transition to the Cook era, customers and investors have, understandably, focused on the products and stock price.
But quietly, Cook has made some important changes in the area of corporate social responsibility.
While he was still the heir-apparent, Cook visited the major Chinese factory that manufactures iPhones, iPads, and other devices, after a series of suicides there by workers protesting the long hours and low pay. Jobs never bothered to check in person. Early this year, Cook brought in an outside monitor to follow up on the complaints and again inspected the site himself.
Even more amazing, Cook publicly identified 156 Apple subcontractors and published the monitor’s report. This, from the company that never talks to the press?
True, Cook has continued the tradition of shunning reporters. However, he showed up at a big meeting to speak with financial analysts—which Jobs rarely did—and has schmoozed with members of Congress.
Such outreach is important, because social responsibility is simply impossible without open communication. Transparency enables customers, neighbors, suppliers, employees, investors, and social activists to see exactly what the company is doing and, in turn, push the company on their own goals.
And Apple employees have started to relax. It’s no longer the case—as Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon famously wrote in their 2005 book iCon—that “You didn’t want to encounter him [Jobs] in a hallway, because he might not like an answer you gave... And you sure as hell didn’t want to get trapped on an elevator with him, because by the time the doors opened, you might not have a job.”
The new CEO is—well—a normal person, not a demigod. He is private but not obsessive and mercurial.
Nor does the praise of Cook diminish Jobs’ incredible talents and achievements. Probably only an obsessive and mercurial creative genius could have had the vision and persistence to transform the floundering concept of a portable music player into the iPod or to revive a cartoon shop called Pixar—to name just two of Jobs’ successes.
Cook may never invent or inspire the invention of a better product.
But he may well reinvent Apple as a better corporate citizen.
The debates about schools and social media are a subject of great public and policy interests. In reality, the debate has been shaped by one key fact: the almost universal decision by school administrators to block social media. Because social media is such a big part of many students social lives, cultural identities, and informal learning networks schools actually find themselves grappling with social media everyday but often from a defensive posture—reacting to student disputes that play out over social media or policing rather than engaging student’s social media behaviors.
Education administrators block social media because they believe it threatens the personal and emotional safety of their students. Or they believe that social media is a distraction that diminishes student engagement and the quality of the learning experience.
Schools also block social media to prevent students from accessing inappropriate content. I have often wondered what are schools really blocking when they block social media. Working in a high school this year has given me added perspective.
In one class my graduate assistant and I are working with a teacher in a Technology Applications class. Our goal is to reinvent the classroom and, more important, the learning that takes place. We structured the learning to be autonomous, self-directed, creative, collaborative, and networked. We decided to let the student teams pick which digital media project they wanted to pursue. Some students elected to team together to produce a series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that target teens. These students liked the idea of using digital media to tell compelling stories about the challenges of teen life. Other students wanted to produce short narratives. They were excited about creating worlds, characters, and narrative dilemmas that allowed their artistic identities to flourish.
In one of our first activities we selected a sample of teen produced PSAs and narrative shorts for the students to study. We asked them to view and critique the different styles, aesthetics, narrative strategies, and technical approaches to digital media storytelling. The teacher posted the links to the videos online and provided the instructions. Suddenly one student raised her hand. She could not access some of the videos. Another student raised her hand. She was having the same problem. At least two of the videos that we asked them to critique were posted to YouTube. The teacher and I had overlooked the fact that YouTube was blocked. A few students used proxy servers to access the videos, a typical workaround in this school. As we struggled to figure out a way to proceed with the learning activity it was clear that we needed to recalibrate the design of the class.
We faced a similar challenge in a game design class that we are working with. Some of the students were intrigued by the prospects of using a Facebook poll to conduct research to build ‘user personas’ of their peers. We thought that the poll would be useful in teaching them some of the principles of human-centered design and also expand their social media repertoire. But because Facebook is blocked the poll could only be conducted outside of school. This prevented us from working with them in the classroom. It also posed a problem for some of the students who either lacked access to the internet at home or have to share computers with parents and siblings.
We are learning a lot about how young people from this community, which has been hit especially hard by the recession and the growing wealth gap in the United States, are managing their participation in the digital world. The old theories about the digital divide—the access narrative—only explain a small part of what is happening in edge communities.
The real issue, of course, is not social media but learning. Specifically, the fact that our schools are disconnected from young learners and how their learning practices are evolving. The decision to block social media is inconsistent with how students use social media as a powerful node in their learning network. Can social media be a distraction in the classroom? Absolutely. Will some students access questionable content if given the opportunity? Yes. But many students use social media to enhance their learning, expand the reach of the classroom, find the things that they ‘need to know,’ and fashion their own personal learning networks. We have met students who have used YouTube to learn how to play a musical instrument—a not so insignificant fact for students whose families can not afford private music lessons. We have seen students use YouTube to help them pursue an interest in building their own gaming computer or share a multi-media project that they developed. Last summer I wrote about students from this same school and how they created a dynamic learning community to support their interest in creating games. Many of them shared YouTube videos with each other in order to learn how to use the game authoring software, GameSalad. (Because it was a summer program, the students and their teacher successfully lobbied to have YouTube unblocked).
A key part of the work that we are doing with students reaches beyond the typical new media competencies such as computer, information, and digital literacy. The teacher believes that network literacy is also crucial. That is, teaching students what Henry Jenkins explains is, “the ability to effectively tap social networks to disperse ones’ own ideas and media products.” Cathy Davidson’s students at Duke made a case for network literacy, that is, “using online sources to network, knowledge-outreach, publicize content, collaborate and innovate.” A number of these students are creators and makers. They design blogs, websites, games, and graphic art. By blocking social media schools are also blocking the opportunity:
1) to teach students about the inventive and powerful ways that communities around the world are using social media
2) for students and teachers to experience the educational potential of social media together
3) for students to distribute their work with the larger world
4) for students to reimagine their creative and civic identities in the age of networked media
In the not so distant future the notion that schools should block social media will become difficult to defend. Before that happens schools will have to reimagine their mission in the lives of young learners, the communities that they serve, and the extraordinary possibilities of networked media and networked literacy.
The scandal that cost Anthony Weiner his seat in Congress may seem to many parents like yet another reason to turn off the news. That's an understandable reaction: parenting is challenging enough without the added burden of explaining why a Congressman would want to send an explicit photo of himself to someone he didn't really know.
But believe me, your kids already know a lot more about sexting than you might suspect (or like). After all, former-Rep. Weiner is hardly the first high-profile sexter, and your children don't have to be news junkies to know that Rep. Christopher Lee, ex-quarterback Brett Favre, celebrity mechanic Jesse James, and golfing legend Tiger Woods have all been caught with their cell phones down. And it's even more likely that your kids have followed the sexting exploits of celebrities closer to their own age, like "Hannah Montana" alter ego Miley Cyrus or "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgins.
In middle schools and high schools around the country, it's common knowledge among students that some of their classmates take and exchange nude photos. The exact percentage of kids engaging in this behavior is a matter of debate (1 in 10? 1 in 5?), but the fact that it happens and that large numbers of kids know about it is not.
That's one of the main reasons that I wrote my newest book, Cybertraps for the Young." It is designed to educate parents and teachers about the legal trouble that kids can get into online. Whereas most Internet child safety books approach the topic from the perspective of the child of victim, I think that the time has come to seriously discuss the potential dangers of the child as perpetrator.
So rather than turn off the news in disgust or try to change the channel, parents should embrace the Weiner scandal for it what it is: a great opportunity to educate their children about the risks of online behavior. The conversation obviously need to be adjusted to reflect each child's age and maturity level, but here are some basic concepts that every child should be taught if they're using electronic devices, regardless of their age:
1. It's WAY TOO EASY to Be Stupid Online Rep. Weiner is actually one of the more technologically-savvy members of Congress. But as Bianca Bosker of the Huffington Post Tech page pointed out, he got into trouble because he made a simple, careless mistake: typing the "@" symbol instead of "D" for "direct message," which meant that the photo of his briefs went to the general Twitter feed rather than directly to his intended recipient. The so-called "direct message fail" is merely one of the seemingly endless number of ways your child can be tripped up online. Everyone makes mistakes, of course, but what kids need to understand is that if they make a mistake online, the consequences can be much more far-reaching and longer-lasting than they realize.
2. Just Because You Can Do Something Online Doesn't Mean You Should Technology makes it all too easy to take inappropriate photos or type inappropriate messages, and share them with the entire world. Often, it's only a couple of clicks of a button, which can make it incredibly tempting to do. But just because something is easy doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Tell your child to THINK!! and then to ask herself, will posting something online hurt her family, friends, or future?
3. If It's Digital, It's Public As the Weiner fiasco painfully demonstrates, if your child digitizes something, it is virtually inevitable that he will lose control of it. That's even more true if he shares it on a social network site or via e-mail. Even if former Rep. Weiner had typed his tweet as he no doubt intended, the simple fact of the matter is that he was still sending a digital file to someone who could save it, re-tweet it, post it to the Web, or sell it to a news outlet or blogger (most of which happened). As Stewart Brand once said, "Information wants to be free."
4. Employers, Colleges, and Journalists Will Find Out All major employers and most of the better colleges are looking at social media sites when they review job or college applications. If your child has posted an embarrassing or inappropriate image of himself on a social media page, the odds are very good (regardless of his privacy settings) that it will be seen by someone making a decision about his future.
5. They're Called "Privates" for a Reason Your child (or your boyfriend, for that matter) may think it's hysterically funny or irresistibly flirtatious to take explicit self-portraits and distribute them online, but it is stupid, embarrassing, and dangerous to do so. Rep. Weiner may be an adult, but if your child is under the age of 18, he or she is violating state and federal child pornography laws by following his example. The potential penalties are severe, including expulsion from school, incarceration, and/or registration as a sex offender. None of that looks good on a college or job application.
In my previous book, American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right, I describe in some detail the corrosive impact that technology has had on the concept of personal privacy. The core value in the concept of privacy is the ability to control what information you release and to whom, and to control how that information is used. The value of individual control over one's personal information is infused into the Bill of Rights, and is essential not only to our individual safety and freedom, but also to the long-term well-being of our democracy. We may laugh at the late-night jokes told at Anthony Weiner's expense, but they mask the far more significant issues raised by the relentless collection of information about our shopping habits, our preferences, our opinions, and our beliefs.
The time to talk to your kids about these types of issues (particularly the avoidance of criminal activity) is always about three years before you think they're ready. It may be five years before YOU'RE ready to have these conversations, and that's understandable. If you just don't think either you or your child is prepared to discuss this right now, don't worry: there'll undoubtedly be other high-profile cases for you to discuss in the months and years to come. But remember, the goals here are not only to help your kids avoid serving as an object lesson for some other generation of kids, but to help them understand the importance of personal privacy in our democracy. They'll thank you for it someday.
In the wake of the uprising that shook up Egypt and ended the thirty year regime of Hosni Mubarak a growing debate around the role of social media has ensued. The press, looking for catchy headlines, characterized the uprising as “the first Twitter revolution,” or “Facebook revolution.” Conversely, a number of critics and academics cry foul, proclaiming that people, not technology, conducted the revolution.
Anyone who has even a pedestrian understanding of social movements knows that they are often caused by the convergence of social, economic, cultural, and political factors. And this is certainly true in the Arab world. Decades of government corruption, elite economic self-interest, the arrogance of power, and historic economic inequalities were the primary catalyst for what Newsweek magazine called, “a youthquake that is rocking the Arab world.” A recent tweet by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is subtle but profound: “We cannot in good conscience continue to reward the rich, penalize the poor, and ignore the middle. There will be a day of reckoning.” While Reich was referring to the current political and economic climate in the U.S., the tweet speaks to the wider global condition. While social media was not the catalyst of the Egyptian protest, it was certainly a tool for mobilizing protest.
The five million Facebook accounts in Egypt make it the second most popular site in the country. YouTube is the third most visited site. Whereas protestors used Facebook to organize, set dates, and “peercast,” that is, share mobile pictures and video with peers, Twitter became the social media backbone of the movement’s day-to-day machinations.
I recently had a chance to speak with a young man who made Tahrir Square his home during parts of the uprising.
Karim (this is a pseudonym) studies social media and told me that he felt like he was participating in history. On February 5 he sent me a number of pictures from his Facebook album that captured various aspects of the massive demonstrations in Egypt. The pictures, of course, had an ethnographic aesthetic about them and offer a much more intimate perspective of the movement than did the highly selected images most people viewed on television. The Facebook album included pictures of people protesting, confronting the police, nurturing the wounded, laughing, celebrating, and, most important, bonding together in a common cause to transform their country. In many of the pictures (see photo at right) I also noticed people capturing the protest with their mobile devices.
In literally thousands of instances they streamed pictures, videos, tweets, and Facebook updates for their comrades around Egypt and the world. his kind of media production is a hallmark feature of the digital media age. Egyptian protestors were not only consuming images of their efforts, they were also producing and sharing those images with the world and giving new meaning to the notion of participatory politics.
Karim explained the popularity of photos this way. “As you might know, sometimes these demonstrations are not safe; so, as soon as we reach Tahrir Square, we take photos of the demonstration and upload them to our Facebook profiles to tell our friends that we are participating and encourage them to come over.”
Curious about the adoption of technology in the uprisings, I asked Karim how did social media influence the events in Egypt. Karim replied that, “the demonstration started on January 25 and the call for it was done mainly through Facebook.” Facebook emerged, in part, as an efficient way to coordinate and organize protestors. The first Facebook post related directly to the events in February was made on January 14 at 11:18 pm, eleven days before the first massive protests in Tahrir Square. The main tag simply read: رسالة إلى شعب مصر: ليكن 25 يناير هو شعلة التغيير في مصر. (Rough)Translation: “Message to the people of Egypt: Let the January 25 is the torch of change in Egypt.”
According to Karim, social media was crucial from the outset of the movement because it gave people on the ground an information technology that they could control. “Because of the government’s heavy control over all the traditional media,” he explained, “the Internet is the only available option for all opposition parties and movements.” That is also why after two days of protest the government shut down the internet and mobile phone service. Determined to keep the momentum people used everything from dial-up modems to proxy-servers.
The first and what will likely go down in history as one of the most famous Twitter hashtag’s in the Egyptian revolution was “#jan25,” created by a twenty-one year-old woman named, who goes by the Twitter name, @alya1989262. Follow the “#jan25” feed (created January 15, one day after the above Facebook announcement) and one of the most striking features is the range and complexity of communication that took place via Twitter. In many ways, Twitter became the mediated eyes, ears, and voice of the day-to-day life of the protest.
Twitter was also used to rally, recruit, and encourage people to come out and show their solidarity with the protestors. In other instances it was used as a broadcast medium, a technology that allowed the protesters to tell their side of the story, their side of history. In societies were freedom of the press is severely constrained and the press is often the mouthpiece of the government, social media emerges as an alternative broadcasting platform, a way to communicate and connect with the world. There is historical precedence for this.
In the 1960s leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement came to understand the power of television and how the images of police brutality turned the tide against the state sanctioned southern hostility toward freedom fighters and their demands for political equality. In the student led movement against the Vietnam War in chants like “the whole world is watching” was an effort to leverage the power of television to mobilize widespread support for their social movement. By staying connected to Twitter the protestors in Egypt were also able to track how well their efforts were trending beyond home. What did they see? The whole world really was watching them but this time on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms in addition to television. @alya1989262 acknowledged this, “Twitter trends also help us gauge how visible we are to the international community.” What makes social movements in the age of social media so distinct is the real time nature of communication in the execution of protest as well as the ability to share perspectives, narratives, and experiences that establish an ambient connection to the outside world.
As we gain a better understanding of what happened in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world we will also learn more about who used mobile devices and social media to energize their efforts to create democratic freedoms. Karim contends that, “the youth who called for the first demonstration on January 25 belong to upper middle class in Egypt and most of them, if not all, have Internet access.” @alya1989262’s account is similar. “A certain class of activists are armed with smartphones, which allow them to live-tweet the protests.” Does this suggest that the movement was ignited by a generation of tech savvy and college educated citizens? Not necessarily. But the idea of this segment rising up to confront power is not all that surprising when you consider their condition. Roughly a third of the population in the middle east is under thirty and a noteworthy percentage of them have college degrees. The young and the digital in the middle east are connected to the world in a way that previous generations could not even have imagined. And yet, the unemployment rate of young college educated persons in the middle east is staggeringly high. A recent report from NPR notes that 40% of young persons with college degrees in Saudia Arabia, for example, are unemployed. Faced with the prospects of a life with few if any meaningful opportunities to utilize their cultural capital—education—many young people realized that they had nothing to lose by confronting the Mubarak regime.
What happened in Egypt is yet another confirmation of what our research has consistently demonstrated regarding young people’s engagement with social media: young people use social media not as a substitute for face-to-face interactions with their peers and the world but rather as a complement. Young people in Egypt did not use social media to avoid gathering with each other or to passively participate in their country’s revolution. They used it to encourage gathering with each other for the expressed purpose of actively participating in the revolution. Twitter and Facebook did not start the revolution but they did help generations of Egyptians realize a world that not that long ago would have been impossible to imagine.
When the social and digital media revolution gained momentum at the dawn of the new millennium, no one would have predicted that less than a decade later black and Latino youth would be just as engaged as their white, Asian, and more affluent counterparts. Across a number of measures -- use of mobile phones and gaming devices, social network sites, and the mobile web -- young blacks and Latinos are beginning to outpace their white counterparts. For years the dominant narrative related to race and technology in the U.S. pivoted around the question of access. Today, the most urgent questions pivot around participation and more specifically, the quality of digital media engagement among youth in diverse social and economic contexts.
Picture this: In the very near future the population in many of the major metropolitan areas in the U.S. will be significantly shaped by young Latinos and African Americans. A recent estimate from the 2010 U.S. Census data finds that U.S. Latinos make up nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population under age 20. The median ages for Latinos and African Americans is, respectively, 26 and 30. This is compared to a median age of 39 among non-Latino whites. Forty-five percent of children younger than five in the U.S. belong to non-white groups. The population that public schools educate in America will reflect these seismic demographic shifts.
Virtually all of those Latino and African American teens will have access to more information and data in their pockets than any brick and mortar school or library currently provides. Many already hold access to a rich array of information in their hands today. However, most teens use mobile phones as social, recreational, and entertainment devices. This is especially true among black and Latino youth who use their mobile phones to watch videos, play games, and listen to music at rates that dwarf their white counterparts. But what if young people were encouraged to view their mobile phones, cameras, and iPods as learning devices and tools for critical citizenship and engagement in their communities?