Friday, November 29, 2013

The Day After Thanksgiving - Means What?


The stories that come in about Black Friday can be incredibly disheartening. However, as the day drew to a close I was reminded that there are people out there working really hard, and making headway, to point society in other directions.

One of the cartoons making the rounds on Facebook today said "Black Friday, because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have." Although we aren't the only society with too much focus on self-absorbed acquisition of "stuff", it still hurts to read.

I was watching the news stories about stores that opened on Thanksgiving, followed by the shots of thousands of people pushing and shoving, fighting, to be among the first into stores in order to buy such important items as a blender. There were the stories of the people who got shot, and of the policeman who was dragged along by a shopper's car, and I have an image stuck in my mind of pre-dawn store doors bursting open and the first of hundreds of people racing in, a woman pumping her arms in the air and yelling "I'M IN!!!!!".

As I was watching and feeling a bit sick, there was a loud repeated knocking on the door. I opened it and a man was there and he was determined to talk me into giving him money so he could go on a trip to London. Or Paris. Or Rome. He wasn't eager to take no for an answer. Getting rid of him politely was not easy. Just say no. No No No NO. Sigh...

Back to the news broadcast. The next story (thank you PBS NewsHour) was an interview with David Risher, CEO of an organization called WorldReader. They were discussing the organization's work to bring ebooks to children around the world using tablets and cell phones. At first I was mildly interested, no more, because there are many related initiatives - all good, all important - and I wasn't expecting anything particularly stand out about this one.

But then Risher discussed his vision for creating big social change.  His goal is to irradicate illiteracy. He laughed as he said this, as if knowing that some people would shake their heads, dismissing the idea as unrealistic dreaming. But he continued speaking, saying just how much knowledge matters to uplift society. His whole demeanor changed and spoke more than words.

The news anchor politely cut him off and directed the conversation back to an implementation question, but I wasn't listening, because I was still with the afterimage of Risher's uplifted body language and voice.

At that moment, I remembered something I heard  a few nights ago in an interview with Louis Gates Jr on this same news program. Gates and his interviewer (Gwen Ifill) are both African American, and at one point Gates said to Ifill [very slightly paraphrased]*:

"They didn't know that slavery would ever end. But they acted as if it would. They didn't care about public perception or what society had to say...They couldn't imagine that you [Gwen Ifill] would ever be co-anchor of a major news program...They couldn't imagine that you'd be interviewing me, a Harvard professor who has created a six hour series on Black history."

You know what? Who is to say we can't leverage computing technology to help irradicate illiteracy?  Who is to say we can't include a socially and environmentally beneficial awareness into all things computing and technology**?

Or whatever your personal vision is - go for it.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy [Black] Friday

*I was writing as fast as I could and believe I caught his words accurately. However, the interview should be available as part of the PBS NewsHour broadcast online from Tuesday this week if you want to hear it first hand
**(see also recent posts on November 23 and November 19)

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