By now I’m sure you have of course seen the hilarious videos of people bending their new iPhone 6+. Here’s one. Here’s another. As a result of these reports, insane amounts of memes have been popping up making fun of the incident, and numerous companies have taken to social media to use the incident as their own personal marketing campaign by humorously stating that their products don’t bend. All out of good humor, right?
Wrong, and I’m going to go as far as saying that it sheds enormous amounts of light on why we have so much trouble with bullying in this country.
Let’s start with an obvious statement: the only real reason that Apple is catching so much flak for their bending phones is because they’re Apple and are the best at what they do. When high profile individuals or companies screw up, the first thing we do as Americans tends to involve bashing them or talking about their mishaps in a negative way. We take to social media, talk about it with our friends, and try to earn imaginary internet points by making memes out of their misadventures. We don’t think about the connotations that our ongoing crusade against a highly successful individual or company might have. When high profile students screw up – either academically successful ones or frequent targets of bullies, their peers do the same thing. I wonder where they learn this?
Here’s another important point that is common with bullying incidents as well: the act of bullying very quickly out scales and overshadows the reason negativity was initiated in the first place. Negativity is not a bad thing when used appropriately, however humans suck at this. With bullying, frequently the negativity towards an individual is an attempt by society to correct the actions of said individual. This is not only important but it’s a good thing. The problem comes when society begins to earn more out of the act of bullying than from correcting the behavior. That’s why these videos and memes are made: because people get more from doing the bullying than from Apple just correcting their phone problems. In high school, students earn social status by fitting in and bullying another student. They earn Facebook likes, up votes, and conversation by posting funny images. Where do they learn this? You guessed it, by watching the 1.5 million+ views of the “iPhone Bend Test” that offers no actual benefit to the world other than bullying an organization for a manufacturing defect. You know what would be a great video? If someone researched why this phone material bent and others did not, instead of jumping on the bandwagon and racking up imaginary points by beating the dead horse. Too bad I couldn’t find one within 15 pages of searching.
Finally, I’d like to present the most important point of all regarding the act of bullying, which is that students simply have no idea the consequences of what they put online. There are two reasons for that: the first is that a teenager does not understand the word “consequence”. To young people, consequences are bad things that happen to them if they break the rules. Social media has introduced a new kind of consequence that nobody understands: societal consequences. These are the impacts of our actions on our peers and surrounding communities, often completely beyond our control. The second reason is that social media is a brand new machine. There hardly exists science behind the user interactivity on social media, let alone the social and emotional impacts of our digital lives on our real lives. We don’t know enough about the effects of our social media use on ourselves and others, so we just continue to use it in anyway that personally benefits us and hope it all works it.
Apple’s new phone has a manufacturing defect that causes it to bend. That’s about the beginning and end of the billions of retweets, likes, up votes, and reblogs this issue has received over the last few weeks. The phone is a week old – Apple will eventually fix the phone, likely within a month. Unfortunately, we simply cannot fix the reinforcement of a disturbing trend in our social media use: that it’s more beneficial to bully an individual or organization by being negative than it is to be positive online. I’ve been teaching for five years: I’ve seen five students commit suicide over social media bullying. That’s five families destroyed, three grade levels of students irreversibly changed, and one community that doesn’t seem to learn its lesson.
EDIT: Here’s a perfect example of an innocent video causing consequences eventually resulting in people taking it too far. When people walk into a store and vandalize property just to prove it can bend, that’s a crime. I wonder where the bullies who cross the line between fun and crime learn that it’s ok? This guy’s tweet, seemingly innocent, is a perfect representation of why we need to seriously consider our social media use trends:
Just stopped in an AT&T store to try and bend a 6+. You have to be kidding me. That is not bendable. $AAPL
— Walter Piecyk (@WaltBTIG) September 26, 2014