Friday, September 24, 2010

Businesses, especially tech businesses, have a responsibility to support public education

This weekend marks the release of a rather controversial documentary film, "Waiting for Superman" which chronicles the state of U.S. public education. I haven't seen it yet, so I will refrain from my opinion, but no less than Microsoft founder Bill Gates is talking it up. Which is really the point of this blog: Have you notice how much the high-tech industry is starting to flip over to education initiatives?

Today, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was a guest on Oprah to announce that he is flipping $100 million to the public school district in Newark. Apparently, that is about one-ninth of the district's entire budget. It kind of makes Dell's pledge to donate $10 million to education initiatives earlier this week pale in comparison; but heck, $10 million is nothing to sneeze at either. Through the Gates Foundation, the aforementioned Microsoft billionnaire has also donated plenty to the cause. The latest example is a $700,000 grant to Jefferson County in Alabama, which is actually funding education for the teachers, not the students. But its funding commitments over the past decade surpass Zuckerberg's pledge. Intel has been no slouch, either. It regularly runs high-profile science and innovation competitions. This web site actually provides an ongoing tally of which businesses are giving what to education.

With technology such a big part of our lives now -- and becoming bigger -- the entire tech industry has a responsibility to step up programs like this. The simple fact is that the public system can no longer do it alone, especially with the beating that the real estate market has taken over the past four years. We need to invest much more quickly than the local bureaucracy of local school districts can possibly support.

The challenge, of course, is whether or not these donations come with strings attached. Let's PLEASE make sure that the administrators aren't the only ones at the table and that this precious funding doesn't fund things like mathematics and science at the expense of the arts. In my mind, that's where the United States still leads: we still value creativity. At least sometimes.

Lots of people have reported rather cynically about Mr. Zuckerberg's donation, saying that it is timed to reflect negative publicity his company has received over a new movie about Facebook, "The Social Network," AND over its decision to build its next data center in a location where it will be powered chiefly by coal-generated electricity. But I'll just gently point out that Mr. Gates wasn't exactly thinking about philanthropy in his 20s. At least publicly. Good for you, Mark.

You can catch the broadcast footage about "Waiting for Superman" and Zuckerberg's pledge o nthe Oprah show Web site.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Protecting your teens from cyber-creeps takes vigilance

I am usually a pretty even-tempered person -- I leave the volatility to my husband -- but some things make my blood boil. The recent incident involving a Google engineer who apparently/allegedly took liberties with the private Gmail and Google Voice accounts of an undisclosed number of teenagers is one of those things.

It's bad enough that parents have to worry about their kids getting nasty texts from their classmates on their cell phones. Then this bonehead -- all reports indicate that while he's creepy he hadn't devolved into sexually predatory behavior -- decides to forget that he's an adult, and starts messing with confidential account data in at least a handful of incidences. I'm just happy that the kids had enough common sense to tell someone, so that this whole thing could get disclosed and resolved relatively quickly.

Except it really isn't resolved, is it? The engineer in question may no longer be on the Google payrol, but Google has got to be nursing a big black eye over this whole thing. Because for all its attempts to protect the privacy of Gmail and Google Voice users with policies and security, this guy managed to breach that wall. Mind you, this individual IS an engineer AND a self-described hacker at that. We're not talking John Q. Public. But still. This has got to be especially troubling for the schools that have been deploying Gmail as their email option left and right, because (um) it's free.

It's another pretty stark reminder that we, as a society, are still neophytes when it comes to managing the role of email and texts and mobile phones and social networks in our lives. For all the advantages they bring, there are a whole string of puzzling and unanticipated disadvantages. We can't afford to let our guard down, even if we are the parents of the world's most responsible teens.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Today's 'well duh' moment: EcoAware moms wield $1.45 trillion in purchasing power

During my daily scan of green technology and corporate sustainability headlines, I came across this revelation from consumer products research company EcoFocus Worldwide: A buyer category that they're calling 'EcoAware Moms' holds the key to $1.45 trillion in walletshare that could lean for environmentally friendly products. Or not.

The research describes these moms as a group of 51 million women -- 69 percent of all U.S. mothers -- who are rethinking their buying habits in the context of the sustainability movement. They are wonderfing whether the plant-based cleaner will do the job, or whether they can recycle something that is already recycled.

According to EcoFocus CEO Linda Gilbert:

"EcoAware Moms are focused on the daily aspects of their households and lifestyles -- reducing waste, avoiding chemicals and toxins, saving resources, and making responsible choices. For an EcoAware Mom, this is where she and her family can make a difference."

Here are the five eco-products being adopted most by these mothers:

  1. Chemical-free cleaning products
  2. Organic foods and beverages
  3. Plant-based cleaning products
  4. Water filter
  5. Resealable plastic bags

And here is what they are avoiding:

  1. Plastic wrap
  2. Disposable cups and plates
  3. Bottled water
  4. Single serve beverages in plastic bottles
  5. Chemical pest controls

Obviously, these are all very daily-life sorts of products, but I'm betting the same also applies more often to technology and consumer electronics products. A few years ago, I wrote a story focused on the fact that many electronics companies market to geeky guys, in about 80 percent of the cases, the woman of the house actually makes the ultimately 'yay' or 'nay' decision. Why should green technology for the home be any different? This research underscores that question.



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

'Defriending' isn't a big deal if you're careful about who you 'befriend' in the first place

I have spent many hours in the past couple of weeks sifting through my three primary "social" networks -- Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter -- and carefully pruning contacts that weren't current or that were very one-way in nature.

As a journalist, and a technology trends journalist to boot, I have to walk a fine line about who I'm connected with. On the one hand, every new contact is a potential new reader or new source of valuable information. I'm supposed to be an advocate for social media. I'm supposed to be a risk taker. On the other, I am hyper-sensitive to the idea that someone might use my connections in the wrong way. Some, including some of the my former employers, would say I am TOO hyper-sensitive.

In any case, I've been thinking about the implications of this quite a bit, although in most cases I believe the people I'm letting go probably haven't noticed. Although everyone who thinks they're my friend will probably check their status once they read this blog. 

How do you "defriend" someone the right way? This essay from the New York Times,  offers some great suggestions. But I have a more radical one: Be more careful about who you befriend in the first place.

How many times have you clicked accept on an invite without really checking who you were approving? When was the last time you talked to that friend in the real world? Better yet, is this a friend in the real world? In my case, that distinction is rather thin. It's in my interest to get as many people as possible reading my blogs about green technology or corporate sustainability. But I've flip-flopped on whether or not all my Facebook friends need to be deluged with my posts. So, which ones do I share on Twitter? How many of my tweets should be automated versus premeditated? 

My filter right now is as follows:

  • If you're a work associate or a public relations person with whom I communicate on a fairly regular basis, feel free to initiate a contact with Heather Clancy on LinkedIn. (My business name is Jabberwocky Communications.) I lock down my connections, so people in my network can see who I'm connected to, but they can't bug someone unless I make an introduction.
  • I reserve Facebook (Heather Clancy Collins) for my friend-friends, my acquaintances through my second life as a barbershop singer, and people from the industry who actually care what I do with my personal life. And vice versa.
  • On Twitter (@HeathClancy), I follow a pretty narrow set of influencers involved in technology journalism, green technology and corporate sustainability initiatives. I usually won't bug you with too much personal stuff, unless I'm really cranky or excited about something that happened with my chorus.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, but this formula seems to be making my social networks a bit more manageable. And I anticipate having to spend much less time "pruning" in the future. I'll reserve that for my perennials.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Teens aren't the only ones who are text happy

OK, for all of you adults who bemoan excessive texting by your teenage offspring, stop pointing the finger at them and reflect on just how much texting you are doing by responding.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life project finds that more than 72 percent of adult cell phone users are sending and receiving text messages. That's up from 65 percent in September 2009. (That's right, just one year ago.) It's also just 15 percent behind the number of teenage mobile phone users who text.

Mind you, teens still have us way beat on volume of texts created: They send an average of 50 (50!) text messages per day, which is about 10 times what adults send.

I'm kind of curious as to the intersection of the data. In other words, I'd love to see whether texting among parents (who are probably interacting with their teenage kids) is higher than among adults who don't have any teens in their house. The data shows that parents ARE more likely to have a mobile phone in the first place: 90 percent of U.S. adults who are parent  have a cell phone, versus 72 percent of those who do not have children under the age of 18 living at home.

And, to those of you who wail about the lack of communication with your teenagers, look at it this way: Maybe you're actually "talking" to them via mobile phone more than you would otherwise.

Other tidbits from this report that I found scintillating:

  • Adult mobile phone users who text also use their phone pretty heavily for calls (I'm betting the same is not true for teenagers)
  • 65 percent of U.S. adults with a mobile phone sleep with it turned on or next to their bed

The survey was a telephone poll taken in May, focused on adults 18 years old and up. The full report is called "Cell Phones and American Adults."