A couple days ago, I found a box of old T-shirts stashed away in the attic: stored years ago as too nice to throw out, not nice enough to wear. Among them, I found an old classic: a black shirt with a white ASCII smiley, sideways, in Courier. I’m pretty sure I bought it in Cambridge, Mass at Newbury Comics in… oh, probably 1995? When I moved to Atlanta in 1997, it got boxed as too nerdy to wear.
When I found it, I was delighted. I’ve washed it, and plan to wear it proudly. In public. What’s different now, compared to when it was boxed?
I suppose you could say the shirt is different. In 1995, it was cutting edge enough to be hip–in a geek chic sort of way. Then it became mainstream enough to be passé. Now it’s so old it’s retro–back to being geek chic, I think.
But more importantly, I’m different. I’m old enough not to care what people think. My kids are still young enough to not care what people think. My husband thinks my geekiness is endearing. He sometimes gives me that comic smirk that says he’s feeling superior to Ms. Geek, but underneath it is a genuine respect.
You don’t need to be a geek to be a computer scientist any more. Most of my women students are most decidedly NOT geeky at all. I’ve taught quite a few debutante-sorority girl types, with perfect clothes, perfect manners, and a perfect understanding of memory management in C#. The new face of women in computing is, increasingly, as diverse as women anywhere. This is something to celebrate.
But for those women with smiley T-shirts in their attics–it’s time to dust them off and wear them again. To be a bit geeky, or very geeky, and proud of it. We’ve come far enough–it is time. Happy Ada Lovelace Day.
[Updated with some new info & clarifications.]
A while back I asked Larry Lessig: kids can’t agree to contracts. So isn’t there a problem with sites where kids upload their intellectual property? They can’t agree to the license….
Finally got an answer back from Larry. Here’s my attempt at a layman’s summary:
- Kids own intellectual property (IP) they create.
- Kids can agree to license their IP.
- Kids can later “disaffirm” any license they enter into, until about one year after they become adults.
- In California, a special process can be followed to prevent future disaffirmation.
I assume this means that a site could simply later remove the content at the minor’s request, and wouldn’t be held responsible for the fact that others have likely copied that material. (An old joke says, “Taking information off the Internet is like taking pee out of a pool.”)
Andres Monroy-Hernandez (lead developer of the Scratch website) asks an interesting follow-up question: What happens to derivative works in this instance? I imagine you’d have to deal with that on a case-by case basis–and it could get complicated.
I find all this reassuring. I was worried that people posting kids’ content online might somehow be liable for doing so. But if I’m understanding things correctly, it simply means “if they ask you to take it down, take it down.” (Though on the other side of the argument, Steven Hetcher at Vanderbilt argues that contracts between minors and websites that post their content may be “unconscionable” and hence invalid.)
I got interested in kids and copyright because I’m interested in peer production of content, and the learning opportunities made possible through creating things and sharing them. But from talking with Larry, it struck me that the much bigger issue seems to be the implications that copyright law has for schools. In particular:
- Schools can’t put student work online without students’ permission, because students own copyright to their own work.
- A teacher who allows a student to place harmful content about herself online on a school website may be held to have acted negligently. School districts have an affirmative duty to take all reasonable steps to protect their students from foreseeable harm.
I used to think of a “brand” as stuff like Tide and Coca-cola–the name of a commercial product. About ten years or so ago, a marketing professor talked me into being on a panel about online communities at a business conference, and she patiently explained to me that a brand is “a promise of quality.” I didn’t 100% understand what that meant or appreciate its power til this past Saturday when I spoke at TEDxNYED.
TED is a wildly successful, top-tier annual conference. So successful that they’ve franchised it into “TEDx.” Independent organizers can apply to host an “independently organized TED event.” If they’re successful, they get elaborate instructions/requirements on how to host it–how to work with the media, what the signage should look like, how talks should be organized, etc. Some folks from TED headquarters help out a bit, but it’s basically an independent event. TEDxNYED was organized by a bunch of independent school teachers, mostly from the greater New York area. In fact, one of my high school teachers–Jeff Weitz of the Horace Mann School–invited me.
Using the TED name, the organizers assembled an all-star cast of speakers. When they invited me, they said “Henry Jenkins and Larry Lessig are speaking,” and I must’ve replied back “yes, I’ll come” in about a microsecond. So in fact did everyone else they invited–the organizers told me they were astonished at the immediate flood of positive responses. In fact, it caused a bit of a problem because they didn’t balance the first round of invitations as much as they intended. They figured they’d get the first round of yes’s and no’s and then look to fill out ethnic and gender and topic diversity with a second round of invites–but nearly everyone in the first round said yes.
TED is such a strong brand that during the conference, #TEDxNYED was trending on Twitter. Over 5000 people watched on the web live that day. Who knows how many will watch when the video is posted for later viewing. When I sat back down in my seat after my talk, I glanced at my email on my phone. My mailbox was full of “<name> is now following you on Twitter!” I’ve gotten more than 100 new followers since Saturday.
The TED format is the most un-academic I’ve experienced. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to a conference before where there was absolutely no interaction onstage. 18-minute talks, no questions. No panels. The speakers speak, the audience listens. And as much as the TED liturgy tells everyone that the audience are as important and interesting as the speakers, the format says otherwise.
There are two models of what I experienced this weekend:
1. I went to a small conference organized by some very nice high-school teachers, held in the auditorium of a private high school, with snacks in the gym. The organizers had never done this before, and a few things were rough around the edges, but in the end it worked out great.
2. I went to a world-class, high-profile event.
The power of the TED brand transformed model 1 into model 2. The “promise of quality” that is TED is a force to be reckoned with. And now I think I understand what a “brand” is.