Dear President-Elect Obama,
First of all, congratulations and good luck. I’ve been following the entire election and your every move on my SmartPhone (when I’m not in school) and I realize that you’ve got a lot going on so I’ll keep this brief.
It is definitely an exciting time to be alive (as my dad keeps saying) and we are witnessing many firsts with your victory. Not to diminish any of the other historical milestones (such as race), but I am focusing this letter on the fact that you’ve been called the first “Technology President” and you are expected to break a long standing tradition of neo-luddism by having the first laptop to grace the desk in the Oval Office. Big, big things are being asked of you to help bring the rest of the country into the 21st Century.
I’m joining in to ask you (beg you really) to at least do one other thing: don’t let them take your BlackBerry away. If you let that happen, Mr. Obama, then it’s curtains for me. If the most powerful leader in the world has his cell phone taken away, then what chance do I have to ever get to use my cell phone at one of the places that I need it most: school?
As a BlackBerry user, I know you understand that cell phones are not merely phones, but actual computers. The media is having a bunch of fun right now with “crackberry” jokes and some call for you to give it up in order to stay more in touch with people. They say that cell phones do “a good job of helping us lose touch with the people around us.” I know… I know… it’s exactly the opposite of why you want to hang onto your BB.
I’ve read about the security concerns and the “Presidential Records Act” argument, but I believe that the risks have been exaggerated. I mean, come on. You’re the PRESIDENT (almost)! One of the most powerful people in the world. Surely, any risks can be controlled or taken care of by the team of very smart people who you are choosing to work with you.
If you give up your BlackBerry, then I’m sorry to say it, Mr. President-Elect, but you’re suddenly as disempowered as me and my friends are at our high school.
Let me paint you a picture: When I come into school each morning, before I’m even allowed to sit down, I have to put my smart phone in a box with all the other students’ phones. It stays in this box all day behind some teacher’s desk. The phones must be shut off before being handed over and if your phone actually goes off and rings inside the box, you will be sent to the office and given detention after school. These rules have been in place for a while and we’re reminded time and time again that the safest method is to just leave our cell phones at home. Of course, nobody does, because we need our phones. (My school is by no means unique, btw; if you do a simple search on the Internet about cell phone rules in high school, you’ll find plenty of schools like mine). I get that teachers want to control the phones because they are worried about kids texting to their friends instead of paying attention, or worse, using the phones to cheat on tests but I have answers to both of those concerns: 1) if kids are texting instead of paying attention, then maybe the lesson needs to be more engaging or exciting for them to pay attention to, and 2) if they’re using their phones to cheat on tests, then maybe the tests need to be more challenging, asking students to synthesize information, rather than just spit back facts. I guess we need new assessments for this 21st Century. There’s so much information out there and it’s said to be doubling every 24 months (by the time we have our next president —if you serve 2 terms— it will be doubling every 72 days!) that I guess it doesn’t really make sense to try and memorize a tiny bit of that for tests. If we need to remember a fact, we have our cell phones and can quickly look it up on the Internet!
I’m not sure if you’ve heard this or not, Mr. Obama, but there are actually teachers out there who want to use cell phones in their lessons, rather than ban them. They see them as tools for learning much like the slate, or paper, or ink, or pens, or calculators. Of course those tools didn’t always have acceptance in the beginning either. Cell phones are the new “scratch paper”. You know, the paper we’re given to work out our problems on during a math test? One of my teacher’s said we have that so that we can use it to work out the “mundane tasks” of computation so our minds can be freed up to work on the harder, “higher level” stuff.
When I’m out shopping and need to find out the best deal or I get into an argument with my friend about what year the first Macintosh was created, I just use my phone to look that stuff up so that I get onto other, better things. Why can’t I do that at school? My phone is like an extra brain. It does all the dumb, simple stuff so I can work on the harder problems in life. Don’t give up that extra brain, Mr. President-Elect!
Another reason why it would be terrible for me if you don’t keep your BlackBerry is that it will set a bad example. Put simply: if there’s ever a problem with a piece of technology at school, most of my teachers simply quit. The first glitch they run into, they throw up their hands and say it’s not worth it! Which is funny, because you’re guaranteed to have problems with technology! It’s part of the package. You just have to take a breath and try and problem solve your way out of it. If you and your team “quit” using the BlackBerry because of the perceived problems that it may involve, then you’re encouraging what I’ve heard people call “The Digital Divide.” I know that most people mean the gap between those that have and those that don’t have the technology when they say that, but there’s also the Digital Divide between those that have teachers who will take risks and bring technology into the classroom and those whose teachers refuse to because of the problems that can happen. No offense, but I think that’s one of the differences between your generation and mine. You were all brought up on TV where your entertainment was all built for you. My generation would rather build our own entertainment, like making videos for YouTube, or putting together a LAN party, or mashup a bunch of stuff other people made to make something new. All of that takes some serious problem solving and decision making that I just don’t think you get by sitting there watching a TV show someone else made.
If you —the PRESIDENT of the United States and one of the most POWERFUL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD— give up your technology that has served you well by helping you run a successful campaign and stay in touch with the regular people, then how will I ever convince my teacher to let us use technology in our learning?
If you give up your phone, then doesn’t it say that technology is “optional” rather than necessary?
I hate to say it, but you’re going to look a little silly trying to get schools to help kids get ready for the 21st Century with your BlackBerry noticeably missing from your own belt.
I trust you’ll do the right thing, because after all, you’ve already got your Weekly Radio Addresses up on YouTube and clearly you’ve changed the campaign game with your use of the Internet.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post. On your BlackBerry.
Joe the Student
Class of 2009