Over at the PLPNetwork blog–which i stumbled upon thanks to a random tweet read as I lay in bed with the light from the Android phone illuminating a dark room earlier today, trying to decide (again) if I really wanted to get up and exercise, a daily re-commitment to effort–I enjoyed Will Richardson’s blog entry. There were some excellent comments posted, including one by my highly esteemed colleague, Tim Holt…it’s nice to have someone pushing back against the thinking that seems so prevalent. That thinking is a growing criticism of the gap between what Apple did with iBook 2 and what it could have done. 

Of course, I’m reminded of the old adage that it’s always easy for folks to criticize people who are actually DOING stuff. In a way, we could cast Apple, the corporation, as a person. 

“Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney said.
Some people in the front of the audience shouted, “No, they’re not!”
“Of course they are,” Romney said. “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?” (Read more)

You know, this whole idea of corporations as people is fascinating and explains the fanaticism some show towards Apple, don’t you agree? Still, there is a problem with this approach. Consider the perspective below:

Should we, as corporate public relations statements often suggest, think of them as friends (if we buy and are satisfied with their products) or as family (if we work for them)?  Does it make sense to be loyal to a corporation as either a customer or as an employee?  More generally, even granted that corporations are not fully persons in the way that individuals are, do they have some important moral standing in our society? 

My answer to all these questions is no, because corporations have no core dedication to fundamental human values.  (To be clear, I am speaking primarily of large, for-profit, publicly owned corporations.)  Such corporations exist as instruments of profit for their shareholders.  This does not mean that they are inevitably evil or that they do not make essential economic contributions to society.  But it does mean that their moral and social value is entirely instrumental.   There are ways we can use corporations as means to achieve fundamental human values, but corporations do not of themselves work for these values.  (Read More- Corporations, People and Truth

There is no reason to expect corporations like Apple to act on behalf of the public good, even though their products are phenomenal. Closed systems like Apple have consequences that we either choose to accept or not when we buy their products. 

I am an Apple user, love their products, but am frustrated by the closed ecosystem. No matter how you twist it, if you’re learning in a walled garden, [you’re] cutting yourself off from a world of opportunities. (Adapted from Source: Martin Jorgensen, Comment)

When Apple trumpets its value in the media, advocating the launch of its products, we should be careful as individual people without the funding a corporation has, to take everything they say with a grain of salt. Seth Godin put this quite well recently in his list of things (Learn Leadership from Congress) to avoid as a result of the SOPA protest, and it’s encapsulated quite well in these words below:

In all things, look for money first. Listen to people with money, respond to people with money, justify your actions around money. 

Such wisdom, though, need not be found only in a marketer’s words, even one as erudite as Godin. It’s found in social media observations, too. Are there any in this grab-bag of Plurks that you agree with?

Absolutely all about profit. As one post said shortly after launch Apple isn’t in this to revolutionize anything. This is a grab at market share and ultimately profit. Most companies license technology to others. Apple buys, and sues to keep others from advancing similarly. They don’t have to operate this Way, but in doing so hold back an entire industry. Apple has notoriously treated employees poorly, and treats consumers poorly as well. there is a simple solution to this ‘problem’ – don’t use their services…but I don’t see that happening.

In the back and forth at Authorship and iAuthorship, Will Richardson makes the following comment that resonates with me:

I’m wondering why it took Apple to give us a pulse about “utterly changing and accelerating how we develop and share content with students and amongst our adult educators.” That’s not new. The package is new. And sure, they are adding some facility to the process. But let’s be clear; we’ve been able to do what Apple has introduced for a very long time without them.

In response to Will’s comment, Tim Holt writes the following:

Isn’t it funny how it takes a tech company to push the conversation like this?
Up until last Thursday, not one person was talking about how electronic textbooks could change the dynamics of the classroom. One demo. One app. And now the conversation is exploding. 

Makes me wonder why it isn’t the professors in the Colleges of Education or the leaders of the groups like ISTE that are causing the conversation change? Why is it Apple?
Anyway, here are my two cents about the whole EUA and ibooks Author. Perhaps it is time to start thinking of books created by these programs as “apps” and not texts.

While it would be nice to think that Apple is simply reaping the rewards of being a game-changer with announcements like this that kickstart the conversation, let’s not forget the millions (billions?) of dollars Apple has at its fingertips.

From its posters to paid advocates in every state to commercials, few in the trenches–whether they be the ISTE (or not) pundits who have day jobs as educators, administrators making far less than any one of the paid Apple advocates–have that kind of marketing power. 

We are fortunate that social networking and media–built on top of community-developed and maintained free, open source tools–are able to amplify the voices of individuals to shout from virtual mountaintops. Absent social media, I might never have met Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach or Will Richardson. It was only at the advent of social media and blogging–NOT Apple, Microsoft, or IBM, Oracle, etc.–that our voices became a contra-decima, a counter-culture to the corporations. In fact, “The CLueTrain Manifesto” may be a text you might adding to your reading list, even though it is available at no-cost (although you can buy a print copy).

…companies don’t like us human. They leverage our longing for their own ends. If we feel inadequate, there’s a product that will fill the hole, a bit of fetishistic magic that will make us complete. Perhaps a new car would do the trick. Maybe a trip to the Caribbean or that new CD or a nice shiny set of Ginsu steak knives. Anything, everything, just get more stuff. Our role is to consume. 

Of course, the new car alone is not enough. It must be made to represent something larger. Much larger. The blonde draped over the hood looks so much better than the old lady bitching about the dishes. Surely she’d understand our secret needs. And if we showed up with her at the big golf game, wouldn’t the guys be impressed! Yeah, gotta get one-a those babies. This isn’t about sex, it’s about power — the greatest bait there ever was to seduce the powerless.

The same technology that has opened up a new kind of conversation in the marketplace has done the same within the corporation, or has the potential to do so. But many businesses, especially large ones, still refuse to acknowledge these radical shifts affecting internal workforces and external markets. They don’t want to relinquish hierarchic control. They don’t want to give up the tremendous economies of scale they enjoyed under the old-school broadcast-advertising alliance. It’s what they know. It’s how they made their fortunes. However, trying to keep things in the old familiar business-as-usual rut denies the ability of markets to respond to and interact with companies directly — and this is what the Internet has brought to the party.

How do we know the conversation is being kept separate, that Apple is refusing to acknowledge the conversation and relinquish control? It’s simple. Ask a question:

Will Apple open–like in open educational resources, creation and production–their devices or not?

Source: OER Commons – http://www.oercommons.org/ 

That’s the conversation that we need to have with Apple. As great as a $15 textbooks may be, as great as not having to lug around big books can be, will the have-nots still be bulldozed into the digital divide by having to purchase a $500+ device to access?

The road is open, but is the cost of the toll is too high?

“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” Source: New York Times

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure