Tag Archives: Facebook

Community, Content and Commodity

I remeber being nervous and stingy and naive when I first joined Flickr nearly five years ago on February 3rd 2007. I knew little about networks or online sharing or photography or copy right or Creative Commons, or much of anything. I was, believe it or not, more self-obsessed than I am even now, and I felt that my ideas and my work and my photos were more valuable than they were. I had at the time sold a few photos at some coffee shop, and I remeber thinking, if I post them online then anyone can take them and do whatever they want with them. I contemplated watermarks and other such silly things.

I am not sure what changed my thinking, but the shift was simple: I understood that the photos, like much of my work would be more valuable, would reach a wider audience, would have a richer life if they did not belong to me, and were set free–so to speak–to roam the Internet. Perhaps, through osmosis or early contact I began to understand and appreciate the concept of the commons.

I don’t think my work is anything special. I do not want to own it. I am not interested in commercial gains from what I share online. I have a salary. I am a teacher. Everything else is who I am online. I share my work, because it brings me in contact with amazing human beings and ideas. So since that day in 2007, I have posted nearly 2000 photos on Flickr. I have since learned about Creative Commons and licensing. It’s pretty straight forward:

You are free:
to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor
Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

In short, it’s yours. Use it, do what you like with it, just don’t make money off of it, and please let people know where it came from. As simple as that sounds, Facebook and Instagram’s new terms of service are quite different. Sounds more like this:

We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

I have had a love/hate relationship (haven’t we all) for years now. I have written at length about the many times I have deleted my account. If reading pages and pages of ripes and excuses about Facebook is not your thing, here it is in short form:

I don’t like how sneaky Facebook is about the content I produce or what they might do with it. I don’t trust them. Who cares? You might be asking. Didn’t I just say that I am no longer attached to my work? The issue here is not the content per se, but the comodification of our communities, of our lives, of our experiences beyond our control.

I thought I had solved my Facebook problem. I decided to simply post updates to stay in touch with friends and family and never post any content. This was great especially when a young start-up names Instagram came to the neighborhood. Sure she was vague about ownership and licensing too, but she was sleek and sexy and look at all those filters! I could post my pics on Instagram and cross post to Facebook, without FB getting their hands on my content. Or so it seemed.

What was even better was the dynamic and organic community that was forming around photos on Instagram. It was perfect. I loved it. Until Facebook bought up my “favorite place online.” Like most people,  I knew they would ruin it, and it was only a matter of time. There are already countless articles about What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You and Facebook’s Extensive Network of Worldwide Affiliates, but here is the heart of the matter:

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.


We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

Now that doesn’t sound very nice. That doesn’t sound at all like the things I was saying at the top of this post. So… I am deleting my Instagram account, not because I am afraid the pictures I take of clouds and my dinner will end up in some commercial, but because I just don’t like how Facebook does business. I don’t want people doing business with what I love, with what I create and share openly. I invest a lot of time and energy and love into these communities. They are valuable to me and I hope to others, but it is clear that our communities are also valuable to companies like Facebook. They want to know where we eat, what we do, what we like etc… I for one am choosing not to give it to them for free.

The Internet and the communities we build on? In? Through it, belong to us, and we should be able to choose how and where they are shared and on what terms. For me, at this time Flickr and Creative Commons are the best choice. They have both been around, relatively unchanged for a while. I like that I pay for Flickr. When services are “free” they are most likely bleeding you dry from some place you might not see. I will pay my yearly $24.95 and I will use the beautiful new Flickr App to try and rebuild my community where I started.

As a tool it is not perfect. It is a bit slow and not as comfortable as Instgram, but isn’t change why we are all in this game? To be adaptable and fluid?

I know that it is scary to leave a community you have built and in which you feel comfortable. That is what Facebook is banking on. That you won’t leave, but if a community is valuable and truly connected, it should be connected beyond a single app or tool. Thee more time I spend online, the more I see that we cannot, should not invest too many of our eggs in single baskets. Especially the one basket that seems to be buying all the other baskets.

I know I will miss certain people and events and expereinces being away from Instagram, but hopefully the people I care about will find me and who knows I may meet someone new. What are you waiting for? Are you leaving too? Do you have similar reasons? Better ones? Are you staying? Am I over reacting? Let’s turn the comments into a dynamic conversation about community, content and commodity.


Flat Landscapes

Here is a conversation I am having with my friend Ari on Facebook about the nature of…well lots of things really. Feel free to jump in on either side. Please excuse all grammar gaffs and typos. Thoughts were written in the haste of FB commentary:

Ari : i love the internet (meta comment, i know), but i also feel more than a bit unsettled in the landscape of the internet…maybe it’s the virtual-ness or that it’s screen dependant (and thus 1-D)…i dont know. MAYBE IT’S A SPATIAL THING…maybe i dont do well in the 1-D world??

Jabiz : I know we have been having this conversation a lot lately, and that is great, but I guess I don’t see the web as 1-D, but more as 4-D. The screen is just an entry to a world that is very rich and full of depth if you are open to it and explore the people that populate it. People tell us it is shallow but I have learned it really is not if you look beyond the 1 D surfaces.

Ari : with love, jabiz, i find your argument beautiful (and vaguely utopian), but i dont believe it holds up to even the most facile scrutiny. from any objective point of view (that is what we are trying to work from, no?), the internet is 1D. we argue about its FIGURATIVE 4D-ness…but not without our language going on holiday. the internet is consumerd via a screen. screens are 1D. now, moving on: my bigger point was that i dont work well in virtual 1D spaces…like TV, etc…the internet flattens the 3D world into 1D. and thats not an inherent problem. hell, it’s probabaly a good thing. but i just dont well with in virtual 1D environments

Jabiz :I know you would like to simply move on from one point to the next, but when having a conversation you have to wait till both sides can have their say. So i would graciously ask that before we “move on” from the semantics of the screen bein…g the 1Dness, you re-read my earlier point, because either you skimmed it, didn’t understand it or simply chose to ignore what I said. The Internet is not any one thing. So therefore to give to dimensions seems futile. Much like literature, art, and consciousness the Internet is a reflection of the human story. It is about people. Our world wide web of thought and creativity. How can we call that 1-D? As for 1D things like TV that you don’t do well with , I seem to recall you enjoyed books another 1D tool used to explore the human story. The Internet like a mirror is what you see in it. It’s shape and dimensions what you produce not just consume. Going back to your original point of being unsettled, I would recommend an inventory of the self, before assigning blame on the mirror (Internet or screens)

Ari : ha! nice zingers, jabiz! very zesty, indeed. now for some housekeeping: i think you, also, didnt truly read my point–which was a description–okay, fine, a critique–of the “landscape” of the internet…and how we “consume” it (note well ……the two words in quotes…which if you trace back to my earlier comments you will find conspicuously foregrounded). …so: okay, yes, the Internet gestures as a trans-social/historical/political dynamic. i concede the point. but that’s neither here nor there in how we both understand the Internet proper (note the word, proper–i.e., the thing one logs on to, that needs electricity, a screen, some sort of computer-y thing, zeros and ones, et. al). simply put: the internet proper is a virtual landscape. …now, of course, that doesnt mean EVERYTHING that goes into producing, sharing, consuming (insert your own gerund here!) is virtual (e.g., the fingers depressing the letters on my computer’s keyboard–how’s THAT for meta, jabiz?)…but…it DOES mean that, quite simply, the CONTENT–for good or ill–is virtual. maybe it’s for good…but thats neither here nor there, at least for me. it’s not value judgment; it’s an neutral observation: the content of the Net is virtual…and therefore so is the landscape. …and how we consume…strictly speaking…the virtual internet proper is screen-dependent…thus all 3D is FLATTENED into 1D. …why all this matters (if any of it matters)…is that i, personally, dont do well in this flat landscape where all cognitive maps and kinesthetic cues are virtual and flat (in the strictest terms of which ive just spent far too long adumbrating). …now jabiz, you are free to take an oppositional stance toward my argument. and no doubt you will. but as you are an educator and deep thinker, why retreat in an automatic defensive crouch? (have i fired any pejorative shots across the sacred bow of the Internet? no. i’ve conceded your points re: the Net as a social, living phenomena, etc.) and perhaps even more important, as a technology teacher/learner, you will, no doubt, encounter many students who also feel a sense of dislocation in this virtual space that lacks tactile kinesthetic cues and traditional cognitive maps…and i just hope that while you may blithely dismiss my points out of hand…you wont be so eager to pounce on their hesitations so lustily.

Jabiz : I will keep my retort shorter and less snappy. I will start with a concession: Yes the content on the Internet is virtual. My point is that there is more to the Internet than content. I see it as a portal to people. What I am exploring is …the creation and fostering of these relationships in a 3d as possible manner as possible. You are right again that these relationships are flattened to an extent online, but they can be amplified as well. I can understand what you say that you are nor well-equipped in this environment, hence your hesitance to use Skype after five years! I am not arguing for the sake of arguing, but because in a sense understanding the Internet in what ever dimensionality we choose has becomes my career in ways. I am trying to understand how it will works to …help my students and my own kids navigate this new landscape to get the most they can from it. Of course you are right that many things are better when done in real life. I think of swimming in the ocean as one, but finding ways to penetrate these relationships with other people (who are very 3d) seems very important. Final note, books are also an entry way into a 1D landscape that represents a broader deeper world. No? Isn’t prose also a, “flat landscape where all cognitive maps and kinesthetic cues are virtual and flat?” So to wrap up: Internet is not just about content to be consumed, but a place to meet people. Also there is other media that is 1D, but we have been able to imply meaning and depth to it. So the Internet can be what we make it. Yes, the wor…ld is too much for the the Internet to handle and that os a GREAT thing. Go our run yoga, hug, hike, swim, breathe long and deep, log-out and don’t sign back in, but what I am saying is that the Internet is filled with real live people trying to represent those joys and fears and life into this weird new landscape. The web is our collective ongoing novel. Meet the authors, be one, or ignore it all. Final, final point: I am not dismissing your points blithely or in any other way, simply engaging in discussion. As I am having this discussion with people on blogs, Skype, real life and conferences- it is my job. And yes there will be or a…re students who feel as you do, and I am having these talks to try and find ways to help them. I don;t see this as fight, but as a conversation. Maybe if we were together or at least on Skype there would be some cognitive maps and kinesthetic cues, till then I have to rely on my writing skills and hope that I can convey tone and mood though my word choice. Maybe an emotican will help 😉 (Winking face to denote snarky toungue in cheek reply to an online exchange)


News Alert Humans Like to Socialize

This headline Social networking ‘damaging school work’ say teachers and subsequent from the BBC spawned a few trickling tweets from me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed more room, some space to really get my thoughts down, because let’s be honest, it is a bit absurd, and it is exactly the paranoid anti-technology hoopla that makes our jobs so much more difficult. And just like it is every teacher’s job to stop bullying or stop and speak to kids who use homophobic insults as tools to cause pain, it is also our job to speak up when someone, especially an organization as “well-respected” as the BBC says something foolish.

Before I begin, let me state clearly that I do believe that everything, especially the things we love and defend need be used in moderation. As every good IB learner understands balance is the key to a happy and successful life. I am sure there are cases where kids have slacked on their homework because they were chatting on Fcebook, but that is no excuse for the BBC to start their article on Social Networking with words like obsession.

Many teachers believe pupils’ work is suffering because of an obsession with social networking, a survey suggests.

Two thirds of teachers questioned said children were rushing their homework and doing it badly so they could chat online.

The article goes on to make some pretty threadbare claims about what teachers surveyed “believe.”

Out of 500 UK teachers involved in the online survey by One Poll, three quarters said parents should limit the time their children spent online.

And 58% said spelling was suffering in the digital age.

A similar number said children’s handwriting was not as good as it should be because they were more used to keyboards and touchpads than pen and paper.

Half of those who took part said children’s “obsession” with social networking was affecting their ability to concentrate in class.

And one in four said they believed children with the poorest grades in school were those who did the most online social networking.

Did these teachers ever stop to think that maybe kids were losing their ability to concentrate in class, because their classes were dull, boring and irrelevant?  Or that maybe handwriting is suffering, because we don’t really need it anymore? Pointing out hyperbolic paranoia and sloppy reporting, or is this just poll sharing, was not my intention for this post. I wanted to think about and discuss the mixed message we send our students:

  • Collaboration is good. But don’t talk to your friends when you should be doing work by yourself.
  • Communication is a key skill. But don’t talk to your friends when you should be listening obediently in class
  • Community is important. But don’t talk to a network of people you know about anything that doesn’t have to do with school.

Why can’t we just admit that we are not “obsessed” with social networks? We are obsessed with being social. And who needs to be in touch with friends more than teenagers. This connection and socializing is who they are. It is who we were, accept I remember hanging out on the curb and the telephone. I didn’t have the opportunity to chat with friends and be able to socialize once school ended. These kids do, and we should learn how to use that, not fear it and block it.

Kids today are socializing in ways we never dreamed of. This shouldn’t scare us. We should learn from them. We should celebrate their love of being social and guide them in how to be able to switch from silly wasting time behavior, which has a place in teen age life, to a more productive use of these powerful tools. As I said in the beginning, of course there must be balance, but that is not how this article was presented. We were led to believe that kids are becoming idiot zombies addicted to mindlessly checking their Facebook feeds, while this may be true for some ( I am guilty), they are simply trying to find a place in the herd, socialize and build identity.

Yes, they are using new ways of doing it, and in new places- online, but we cannot bar them from going there; we must understand their needs and make sure they are safe and confident. So for the last time, parents, teachers schools, stop blaming social networks for strange obsessive social behavior in teenagers. That is their nature. Stop blaming their disinterest in your outdated teaching style and subject matter in the digital age and get with the times. Stop surveying teachers on what they “believe” social networks are doing to kids and ask the students themselves! If we want our kids to be effective communicators who can collaborate and work with others to build productive communities, why are we afraid to let them try?

What do you think?


The Facebook

I saw the Social Network last night and I was very impressed. I do not want to turn this post into a review of the film, except that I will say I found the script hilarious, sharp and witty. The acting, especially Justin Timberlake, was natural and compelling, and the music by Trent Reznor was a perfect complement. It was not just background music, but at times felt like another character helping to move the plot and add tension. (I am actually listening to it now as I type this post.)

I know some people have criticized the movie for not having any positive female characters, and while I agree this is a valid criticism, I would like to state that while we may not agree or like to admit, the mind of the college man dwells in dark places, and most of our time in those caves is spent pondering one thing and one thing only- Women. I am sure there are balanced, well-intentioned, sensitive, young men out there, who do not spend every waking minute of their college life obsessing about women, but for most of us college is a time of great insecurity and is most often consumed by trying to find ways to be as close to the opposite sex as possible. The sexualized fantasies of the film may have been exaggerated and unrealistic, but the obsession was not.

But like I said in the beginning, this was not meant to be a review of the film. As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but thing about how the Internet is changing the way we create and understand self, and more importantly how does this newly developed public self go about creating social groups and/or communities? How do we as adults who did not spend our schooling years making friends online, learn to understand this change and work with our students to understand the new phenomena?

One of my favorite lines of the film was when Timberlake’s character is at a party and says, “First we lived on farms, then we moved to cities, and now people live online.” While this idea may terrify some, or feel like hyperbole to others, I feel it is pretty close to the truth. While it may appear quaint and nostalgic to champion face-to-face interactions, please believe me I am an advocate of the organic as well as the digital, the reality, whether we like it or not, is that we spend a great part of our lives living online. I am not talking only about those of us who have embraced the social web, those of us with blogs, youtube channels, twitter and The Facebook, I am talking about your average person who Skypes friends, checks status updates and photos, and stays connected through the web. We are all slowly migrating from the cities to online.

For most adults, this living online has been a slow shift. We knew how to make friends, some of us better than others, before the Internet, and so transferring the ability to maintain relationships in “real” life, to life on the web has been a steady continuum. But how do kids these days deal with it? They are learning how to make friendships online as they learn how to do it face-to -ace. This is a fundamental shift in how we foster and maintain relationships and build communities.

It is important that we acknowledge the fact that sites like Facebook are where young people to go to be social. Many nervous administrators want to block social networking sites, like Facebook, but they must realize that this is where kids hang out. While this idea of hanging out on the cloud or in cyberspace feels strange to those of us who did not spend our time there as kids, we owe it to the students we teach to begin to understand the dynamics of online social life. We must begin to ask students what life is like on the web, so that we can help them understand the value in face-to-face relationships. On a more selfish level, it would behoove us to learn more about socializing online as many of these kids will be in charge of the world as we age, and it is always a good idea to understand how they operate. Teachers have a tendency to think that the way they did thins was better than the way they are being done now, so they are constantly trying to force students into the model they feel the most comfortable with. Social networks are here to stay, and we can pine for the good old days when life was private and people knew how to have conversations, but the reality is that those days are gone. We can help students understand the importance of face-to-face interactions, but not until we show them that their digital social rituals have value.

I think the film exposes some important areas for exploration. The main one being, why are we social at all? On the web or off. What is that pressing need that we have as humans that makes us want to fit in and be loved. To be accepted. It is easier for mature adults to look back at our teenage years and scoff at our juvenile behavior in middle or high school. Or to be embarrassed of the days when we considered joining a fraternity or a “Final Club” so that we could be cool and find a date. All of these activities, merely, highlight the need that people in general are insecure and looking to fill the gaps in their personalities with the acceptance of others. We want to be understood, accepted, and if we are lucky loved for who we are. The problem becomes how do we articulate who we are to others.

In the past before the Internet, we relied on what I think are more superficial indicators. For me, in middle school I was judged by how I dressed, which reflected my economic class status, by how I looked, and by the way I acted in class etc…None of which were remotely accurate to the person I was. Like most adolescents and young adults, I had a rough of idea of who I was, but most days even I was confused. So to be judged and evaluated on how I presented myself to the world seemed unfair. No one got me and I had no way of setting them straight.

I think this need to present ourselves as we create and recreate ourselves and change and grow is the central theme of both the movie The Social Network and social networks. Zuckerberg’s goal was to give people a place to stake claim and announce to the world who they are. He wanted to level the playing field. You could, by publicly sharing your profile, dictate to the world how to perceive you once and for all. You no longer had to be the quiet wallflower or the dense jock, if people could see the books you were reading or the music you listened to. Suddenly, you became much more multi-dimensional. Social networks allow us to create who we are much more accurately than non-digital life.

I think I may have more material that will fit into this post, so I will wrap up for now. In closing, I just want to point out that life has changed, is changing, we are in the middle of a very exciting time. The very nature of who we are and how we connect with others is in flux, but this change need not be terrifying. Yes, our children socialize in radically different ways than we did when we were kids, yes young people tend to stare at screens instead of at each others eyes, but we must keep in mind that behind every screen is another person, or two, or three. While staring at a phone and texting may appear anti-social to us, it is actually the most social of acts for them. We cannot ban or force kids to abandon a form of socialization simply because we don’t understand it or because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Make me think of a line I just read in John Spencer’s book Teaching Unmasked: Criticize the tools you use and use the tools you criticize. I for one am going to tack that up on my classroom walls and jump in feet first to help my kids find their voice, find their passion, and their confidence to build and maintain meaningful and mature relationships, both face-to face and online. You can choose to stand on the sidelines and fear the world as it comes at you, or you can choose to go with the flow and move forward.


Education Lasts a Lifetime

There are hundreds if not thousands of posts online about how teachers use or misuse Facebook. I am not a huge fan of Facebook myself; my personal opinion of the tool have flip- flopped more times than I would like to admit, but I have found it to be an easy way to keep in touch with friends who are not overly connected in other ways and with other tools.

I have recently found it a very cool tool to stay in touch with former students. You see, in the international school circuit, teachers and students lead very transient lives.  We come in and out of each there lives very quickly. I have found Facebook to be great tool for not only keeping tabs on former students, but as a place I can continue to teach and learn from them

I am firm believer that we are now at a time and place where  learning is happening everywhere, and both students and teachers must take advantage of the connections we make, no matter how fleeting. If I find and teach a student who is a talented writer and enthusiastic blogger in six grade, I want to be able to continue working with her for years to come.If I find students who are compassionate caretakers of the earth and active with social issues, I want them to remain active members of my network.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if we are too scared to connect with student using social media, then we are denying ourselves a crucial segment of our learning networks. I love having former students who I follow on Twitter. They sometimes leave the most insightful comments. Just today I had two great connections with  former students through Facebook.

Before I share the stories, let me explain my student Facebook policy. I do not friend any current students on my Facebook profile. I have in the past,  however, when moving on from a school, friended a few students who I really trusted and connected with on deeper level. There are only about five of these students with whom I stay in touch. One is now a twenty something year old women who I taught six years ago in The Bronx, and who I visited last time I was in NYC. The others were in 8th grade when I was in Malaysia and recently graduated. One recently sent me this request:

I love the fact that she trusted me enough to ask me for my advice. We have stayed in touch through blogs and Facebook since she was in eighth grade. She is a kind and brilliant young lady.  She is a valuable member of my network.

My more current policy, looks like this: I have created a Mr. Raisdana fan page which I share with all students current former etc..This way, tehy cannot see my personal content, and I cannot see theirs. I use this site to share homework, articles, and try to instigate conversations between my current students and the kids I taught last year in Doha. My current kids are still a bit shy and quiet, but my students in Doha have been active staying in touch. Sometimes it is just silly catching up:

But it can also be a great tool to continue teaching kids:

So as you can see, Facebook and social media do not have to be something to be scared about. All social media is about building relationships based on openness and trust. There is no reason why we can’t create and foster long lasting teacher/learner relationships with our students. You are not going to stay in touch with every student you ever teach, but wouldn’t it be great to stay in touch with the ones who really got what you were teaching? To be able to advize, teach, and learn from them as they grow up and become adults. Life long learning, means life long relationships.

I want to thank my students for everything they have taught me and invite them to leave a comment and join the conversation.