Steve Jobs Vs Maria Montessori – Who Won?

I envision a debate between the late founders of two institutions that have impacted hundreds of thousands of children.

Steve Jobs is at his podium with a sleek tablet (downloading material from the Cloud, so to speak).

Maria Montessori is holding up a handful of sand-paper letters.

The debate begins, and Dr. Montessori, who doesn’t care to introduce herself, begins handing out rectangles of sand-paper, and pink blocks to anyone who cares to listen. Jobs is tap-tapping away on an iPad with retina display and fingerprint recognition.

But seriously, I have been fascinated to see how often modern educators, and people from all areas of student involvement invoke Maria Montessori today. I just came across an article by Dale Dougherty, the founder of MAKE magazine and creator of Maker Faire, among other things. He goes on to talk of her “education of the senses”

Montessori describes other exercises that encourage children to explore the sense of touch: setting out metal containers of water heated at six degree intervals; tablets made of three different woods that differ in weight by six grams; other tablets that have alternating strips of smooth paper and sandpaper.

Now you know why I was temped to compare the world’s best-known tablet promoter, and user of old-fashioned tablets!


Speaking like Jobs – Presentation tips from 10 years ago

Exactly 10 years ago this week, Steve Jobs took to the stage –a technique he would go on to perfect — to launch the iPod Shuffle.

That was Jan 11th, 2005.

I often do ‘anniversary’ events in my class, to get young people to think about where we are now, in relation to where we and the technologies we take for granted were once at. After all, this is a Computer and Technology Lab, and I don’t want to get into the trap of always featuring today’s shiny new object, or the hottest new parlor trick in digital media. We often need context, and it tends to fly by when we refresh our feeds, doesn’t it?

Back to Jobs. His presentation trick was to use insanely simple devices. Well rehearsed, and well timed but simple. Which made him very different from his tech contemporaries, who revel in Silicon Valley argot. (Yes, I listen to ‘This Week in Tech, to catch up with the other kind of tech-talk!)

Listen to how he works up the crowd, and keeps them hanging on for that characteristic”One more thing.”  Fast forward to 1:35, and see what I mean.

  • He uses words like ‘noodled’ (He “noodled on it” not “researched it”)
  • He uses unexpected pauses, and slows down and speeds up suddenly
  • He uses home-spun images – comparing the iPod Shuffle to a pack of gum, and contrasting it with four quarters

Notice how he also stays away from big words, using words like “easy”, “simple,” “thing,” etc. (And yet, peppering his presentation with keywords!)

Even if there was no YouTube, I bet we would still listen to it.

How “Research” helped Jobs and Woz

Steve Jobs wouldn’t have been the serial entrepreneur we knew him to be, if not for his partner in crime, Steve Wozniac

I make this point to my students, when teaching them the power of collaboration, something lost in our education system that, until now favored the individual over the group; the bubble test over the team project. Common Core standards, adopted by my school (Arizona is one of some 45 states adopting them) urge us to break out of that mindset, and get kids to discuss more, debate, confront, and work as a hive mind.

So I use this example of Woz, where he describes how he stumbled over a piece of fiction about the ‘Blue Box’, and showed it to Jobs. They wondered if this device were possible, but didn’t stop at that. They snuck into a library one Sunday, and looked it up in a stack of journals.

In other words, Steve and Steve were doing their ‘research.’  Something that sounds anathema to today’s kids who like to imagine search = research. That supporting ideas will always be within a few keystrokes or clicks.

I particularly like how the Apple co-founders got started not in a garage, but a library.

2011 dominated by people rather than technology

It’s impossible to overstate how tumultuous a year 2011 has been.

Every year we seem to think that we have been shaken, twisted around, rudely awakened. Usually it’s about technology. But usually it’s about some life-changing technology, or a new ways of doing things. Refreshingly, this year there was a large human dimension to it, some of which I covered here on this blog.

It was as if we were looking through a camera and switching between two filters:  Pro-democracy and Anti-terrorism. But we also saw a share of media events, some even about the media!

  • The people’s revolutions in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, Libya…
  • In a surprising move, the US captured and killed of Osama Bin Laden — ten years after he declared war on the US.
  • Then there was Occupy Wall Street, a movement pooh-poohed by many but seemed to catch on, franchise-like, sprouting  arms, posters, and megaphones…
  • The shooting (and amazing recovery) of congresswoman Gabby Giffords dominated the early part of the year. At least here in Arizona.
  • The media scandal in the UK rocking Rupert Murdock’s empire.
  • The Kate and William extravaganza in the media -a.k.a. the royal wedding.
  • The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in April.
  • The passing away of Steve Jobs –perhaps slightly exaggerated as an ‘event’ (even on this blog!) But it made us consider how one man could have impacted so many.
  • Aung Su Kyi returned to the political arena, registering to run in upcoming elections

What does Big Brother looks like in a post-Jobs world?

Those in marketing have this quaint memory of Apple and its overthrow of those who enforce “information purification directives” in a stifling “garden of pure ideology” (the words spoken by the image of Big Brother on a giant screen).

If it was revolution, it was the triumph of the little guy over big intimidating folks such as IBM, not government.

But what does Big Brother look like today? What would George Orwell have railed about if he wrote about it now?

Few have heard about a program dubbed Einstein –essentially a government surveillance program. Details are understandably sketchy. It was set up for network security of government properties, but aslso to conduct surveillance, to look for the bad guys. Einstein came to be in 2009 as an early warning system, and was described this way:

Developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Einstein software provides real-time monitoring and analysis of Internet traffic flowing in and out of federal agency networks. 

There is more here, and here. You would expect governments to get with the program and be vigilant on who’s accessing an intending to compromise their networks. I would be upset if they aren’t.

But then, with the ability to monitor social networking,  it gets more complicated. It is one close hop from monitoring who’s clicking on links and from where they are arriving on, say a Federal web site, to doing real-time surveillance of those people via their social networks. It’s also so easy to do. Easy to eavesdrop on a Skype call, or drop in on a Facebook user and check on the frequency of exchanges with a particular person, and do some data-mining based on that user’s friends, photos, interests…

Sounds like the cloak and dagger stuff in the movies? Think again. Two years ago, the Boston Globe reported on social media savvy undercover cops, and in another case, AT&T was sued for helping the government intercept phone calls. Today Facebook is being drawn into this debate about how much we should share, and what it “knows” about us, with one researcher alleging that it could track you even if you have logged out of Facebook.

Somehow I am not shocked, or worried about this. That’s the Faustian bargain we make when we use these services, many of which come at no cost to us. I’ve made the case before that the disease of over-sharing, and our need to communicate with our friends-of-friends-of-friends every moment and minutae of our lives invites this.

We could of course turn these off, or do something else: provide information that would confuse the heck out of anyone watching over our keystrokes. There’s a line in the 1984 commercial that shows us how, and how we could talk them “bury them with their own confusion.”

Go ahead, poke Big Brother in his eye!

“The world has lost an amazing human being.”

Hard to forget, the first PC I ever owned was the Apple Color Classic*.

But apart from giving many of us in advertising and marketing a simple (as in non-geeky) on-ramp to computing, we remember him for his vision, and his humanity.

I found this statement from him, made in 2005.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share…

…Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.”


*I have not used a Mac for the past 15 years. 

Blogs allow CEOs permission to stop being ‘corporate’

There aren’t a lot of CEO’s who blog. Still. No one expects that of them. But there are many who -blog-like– speak their mind. So when people ask me for some examples, there are a few I usually refer to.

Kevin Roberts’ blogKR Connect, the blog of the the Australian CEO of Saatchi Worldwide.

Steve Jobs’ blog –actually this is not Steve. It’s the celebrated, outed ‘Fake Steve’ blog, but it’s worth reading…

Mark Cuban’s blog. Calling himself BlogMaverick, Mark has been setting the tone for CEO-speak for a long tome.

Jonathan Schwartz’s blog. I hold Jonathan’s Blog responsible for infecting CEO’s with the idea that it was time to bring social media in from the fringes into the mainstream communication

Schwartz, the former CEO of Sun Microsystems, was frequently called things like ‘blogger in chief‘ for good reason. His blog at Sun set the tone for everyone else blogging at Sun. He was not the kind of person who had one set of communication rules for the corporate office, and another set of rules for the rest.

I’ve interviewed many CEO’s and VPs for articles and podcasts, so know when someone is not comfortable presenting his/her human side just because there’s a microphone or camera in the room. Others don’t even have to switch into homo sapiens mode –they are exactly the same when facing external audiences as they are when communicating to internal groups.

How does your CEO, or client communicate? Are they instant ‘blog material?’ Do you sometimes wish you could capture the big guy’s thoughts in a podcast or blog, knowing that if you ask him to write it down or send it through his PR/legal funnel it would come out as something nonsensical?

I don’t recommend a blog for everyone, but I do know that its discipline and format has a way of giving a senior manager the permission to stop being all stuffed up and corporate, and to be more authentic.

Media skepticism much needed

Jeff Jarvis isn’t simply being a cheerleader of citizen journalism because of the new media edge (and hip factor) it lends to a profession being slashed (by bean-counters) and burned (by the digital-rules crowd.) More than two years ago, he redefined it as ‘networked journalism’ which removed the dichotomy between Pros and Ams. But how to deal with the credibility factor, or lack thereof?

Responding to how another recent Apple rumor (remember the first one?) piped through an unverified iReport portal on CNN, was being framed as the downside of citizen journalism, Jarvis used this as a ‘teaching moment’ to remind us of the need for media skepticism.

“Mistakes – let alone rumors and lies – go out live and the public has to learn to judge the news more skeptically. The truth is, they always have. But now rather than ignoring their skepticism, we need to encourage it and educate people to think this way. Call it media literacy.”

Truth is, most people expect the media to be fact-checked and error free. They don’t buy into the definition that the media is ‘the first rough draft of history’ and all that.

People often complain about the typos and non-adherence to the style-guide, but don’t always howl about the skewered facts. I find the absence of ‘absolute truth’ across the board, in The Economist and NPR, Drudge and talk radio. That’s the bargain I make when I subscribe to them.

At best the journalists (professional, amateur, networked or otherwise) can only give you one version of the truth. They may be our filters, but we need to also install our own.

Quotes for the week ending 13 Sept, 2008

“Google is the oxygen in this ecosystem”

John Battelle, journalist and author, commenting on the company called Google that started out in this garage on 7 September, 2008.

“I had thought 51 years of rough-and-tumble journalism in Washington made me more enemies than friends, but my recent experience suggests the opposite may be the case.”

Robert Novak, longtime journalist, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times who was disgnosed with brain cancer.

“In an age when politics is choreographed, voters watch out for the moments when the public-relations facade breaks down and venom pours through the cracks.”

Nick Cohen, The observer, UK

“Colgate University Has an Official Twitterer. World Yawns.”

Headline for article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, about how the university is using micro-blogging.

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Steve Jobs, using the Mark Twain line to open his address at a Mac event.

“It works like predictive texting. You start to type in a word…it suggests what you might mean to say. Like….you start to type in “stre”, and it might suggest “street view” or “utter lack of privacy” or “you only need to sign off 3,793 papers to get your face off our program”

Jodie Andrefsky, with a cynical take on Google’s claim to ‘anonymize’ people’s searches on the new web browser, Chrome.

“Houston, we have a PR problem! I’d offer the McCain campaign some PR advice, but I can’t seem to stop laughing…”

Len Gutman, at ValleyPRBlog, a on Saragh Palin’s PR nightmares.

“Good journalism is essential to democracy. With good journalism, you have good government.”

Calvin Trillin, hournalist, poet and author (A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme), who will speak at ASU on 30 September, 2008

“We become the proverbial, ‘just stopping in for a cup of coffee don’t have time to chat social network user’.”

Mark Meyer, Director of e-commerce and interactive marketing for Emerson Direct, a fellow blogger at

“Rumor” about Jobs, a symptom of things to come

Steve Jobs brushed it off with a slide. He used the Mark Twain line to note that the rumor of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

The rumor, was not a rumor but a publishing mistake –going live with a story that should have been behind a firewall. Bloomberg is not the first to make this new-media error.

The copy had the usual safeguards: “HOLD FOR RELEASE – DO NOT USE – HOLD FOR RELEASE – DO NOT USE.” There were placeholders such as “IF STOCK DROPS” leading into a sentence “…The decline is no surprise to investors…” All good intentioned.

But in the rush to do things to meet unforgiving deadlines, to hit the newsstands, and sate the digital newsfeeds, publishing must take these risks. Are we moving too fast, where we might accidentally push the button that could affect the stock price of a company?

Rumors –especially the online kind– are nothing new. United Airlines’ stock was a victim of a rumor just this week, while Yahoo! (temporarily) benefitted from the Microsoft takeover rumor that turned out to be more than a rumor.

Rumor is being slipped into the PR toolbox because it goes well with viral. Recently, there was one about the –ready for this?- Apple Nano iPhone. If you replace “rumor” with “forecast” a lot of this might make sense. The Nano iPhone story was based on a “forecast” using “unnamed sources in the supply channel.”

As we accelerate our marketing, our PR and how we generate news about organizations we represent, news, forecasting and speculating could begin to blur.

Dan Lyons, who once created the now-retired Fake Steve blog, didn’t mince his words describing Gawker, which republished the Bloomberg gaffe as “filthy hacks,” ending also with “Great work, Bloomberg. You dopes.”