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
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.
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
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