Big Brother is Tweeting You

Cyber-bullying isn’t exactly a new topic of discussion among today’s tech-savvy youth, but what about cyber-threats to national security? Americans are not known for regularly censoring themselves online, but what if they knew that big brother is sifting through their tweets? The LA Times reports that there were, “more than 6.5 million Tweets during the third presidential debate Monday – and a few of them were death threats against President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.” Apparently, when angry tweeters issue death threats it is the Secret Service’s solemn duty to tweet back with authority. While I do not want to downplay the Secret Service’s important duty of protecting the President and his family from legitimate threats, I cannot help but view angry, presidential debate fueled tweets as inconsequential. Quite frankly, I am scared as to the implications of government bodies regularly monitoring and acting upon information from social networking sites. According to the LA Times, the Secret Service has only been monitoring Twitter for about a year and does not have accounts on any other social media website. Still, every small encroachment on a society’s freedom of speech is occasion to be concerned. I understand that death threats are not protected under freedom of speech, but when the Secret Service issues an invitation for whistle blowing on a social media website, I grow cautious. Also, some of the tweets that are being targeted do not strike me as legitimate threats.

The article provides an example of one of these “life threatening” tweets:

“Last month, a 25-year-old Birmingham, Ala., man was arrested and charged with making threats against the president after an anonymous caller reported a Tweet that said, “Free speech? Really? Let’s test this! Let’s kill the      president!” according to court documents.”

Cruel, cruel irony. I guess his test failed. Publishing our thoughts online offers countless freedoms and exposure to a worldwide audience; unfortunately, it is easy to take advantage of these facts and have your words used against you by others, and now, by your own government.,0,2856967.story?track=rss&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter



Amazon just announced its newest addition to the Kindle platform, Whispercast. Amazon’s webpage for the Whispercast tool explains how this new feature enables large groups of Kindle users like businesses or schools to centrally manage their Kindles. Since I am not a Kindle owner, I was a little bit surprised that Amazon didn’t already provide this capability, it seems so basic. Being able to manipulate hundreds or thousands of Kindles simultaneously could have profound effects on schools. The days of walking a class of students to the library so they can all check out a copy of the novel are over. With internet access in the student’s hands that can be password protected and have controls, (to block facebook, twitter, ect.) students may never need to go to the computer lab for research either. As a former teacher, I am very interested in these types of developments that are clearly aimed at schools. Amazon’s Whispercast webpage features a picture of young students all reading from their Kindle. Last week I inquired as to why these types of features can’t be made cheaper for the classroom, as this is where they can make the biggest differences. Few schools have the funding to purchase a $150 Kindle for every student. The expense of these technologies is likely to create an even larger gap along socioeconomic lines in our nation’s education. The price of these technologies concern me. Having tablets in classrooms brings up other concerns as well. I wonder if standard keyboarding and typing skills will disappear altogether because of touch screens. I’m curious if students will no longer learn out to navigate print encyclopedias, dictionaries, or reference books. School libraries are already suffering. I wonder if they will slowly morph into Kindle recharging centers instead.

“Immersion Reading” on the Kindle

It should come as no surprise to the world that Amazon is bringing forth new means of interacting with their Kindle products. To be honest, I normally skip over these articles because I don’t own a Kindle and could care less what they offer. On the other hand, I came across two articles today I’d like to discuss; one was about Amazon’s new “Immersion Reading” function on it’s Kindle, and the other was about a German E-book retailer named Txtr that is releasing a new e-reader for only $13.

Amazon’s new “Immersion Reading” function allows Kindle owners to read along on their Kindles while the stories are being professionally narrated on audio book. The Kindle will even highlight the text as it is being read aloud to you by the likes of Kenneth Branagh or Elijah Wood. Personally, this new function doesn’t strike me as a very fun or exciting way to experience a book, but it does strike me as one of the most valuable teaching tools for literacy to come about in ages. The word “immersion” itself conjures up thoughts about language acquisition and digital-age literacy skills. Sadly, the article doesn’t mention any plans to take this new technology into our primary and secondary education systems. It does, however, mention that this new function is only available on the newest and most expensive Kindle products, which isn’t surprising.

What is surprising to me is that another company, Txtr, is able to produce surprising numbers of basic E-readers and sell them for only $13. Txtr’s Beagle has no charger or cables, and can hold five books at a time, approximately how many books are taught in the average high school English class every year. At a time when our public education is floundering, a $13 E-reader seems to be a legitimate and viable option for taking literacy education digital. Perhaps I’m being wishful or just ignorant of the cost of technological developments, but why can’t we find a way to provide our schools with cheap E-readers that have the same “Immersion Reading” functionality as Amazon’s Kindle? In California only 3% of the English Language Learners are reading at a “Proficient” level. According to state tests, only 28% of our native English speakers are reading at the “Proficient” level. In a world wholly submerged in digitized entertainment, the only thing most of these kids don’t have access to in a digital format is books.

The cruel irony of the whole situation is that Amazon is providing 20 free E-books with the “Immersion Reading” function to owners of their new $159 Kindle Fire or Kindle HDs. And what books are they giving away for free? Just twenty classics that are studied in every single public high school in the nation, such as: Frankenstein, Huckleberry Finn, and Gulliver’s Travels.