Greetings Mr. Cook,
Congratulations on your inspired commencement speech at your Alma Matter, MIT, today. Since my 128K Mac days, I have long been a consumer of Apple products and they have helped shape my own technical education. As you are an MIT graduate and my youngest daughter has ambitions to attend there in the Fall of 2018, I had many reasons to watch your presentation.
Your position at Apple indeed affords you the opportunity to share your leadership insights and wisdom on those who are venturing in to the challenging and exciting technical future. You have earned this honor through hard work, insightful strategic choices, and effective management and development of your quality staff. You touch upon a number of these highlights in your presentation. Bravo!
Today you said, “When you are convinced that your cause is right, have the courage to take a stand. If you see a problem or an injustice, recognize that no one will fix it but you.” Five of us in Montclair, NJ have done just that. We have taken a stand.
This past Fall we started up a small nonprofit called Laptop Upcycle with a simple goal: We believe all public school students should have access to the technology and hardware they need to learn regardless of their family's income level. To that end we take donated used laptops, refurbish them and give them to students in need, free of charge.
You see Mr. Cook, we agree with you. We see the power that technology has to change lives and we all know that what really matters is how we can collectively serve humanity, leaving this place better than when we found it. So even though we understand and appreciate your opinions on AI, and your well-founded pride in Apple technology that can help those with the means to run a marathon when they couldn’t before, we believe a higher priority MUST be placed on those who are at risk in our economy.
Let me share something with you. We live in one of the most affluent suburbs of New York, Montclair, NJ. Yet we estimate that over 100 students entering the town High School each year do not have ready access to their own computer to do their homework at home. Many students we work with shuffle from make-shift living arrangements to the library just to try and keep up with their studies. It doesn’t take an AI or an advanced degree to predict that Montclair is not unique in this regard, and that the situation can only be worse in less affluent communities. All across the country there are young adults who do not have access to the technology tools you describe so eloquently.
These future leaders of our country are missing the opportunity to evaluate for themselves the positives and negatives of technology you describe when they are simply scrambling to find a PC at the library to complete their science paper. We have worked with over 70 families since last Fall, giving kids in our schools their own free laptop. It is a powerful moment when a 13-year old asks you, “Is this really mine?” or they send in a hand-written note describing how their new laptop has changed their family life. Our neighbors know all too well the strength of families, neighbors, and community. They only need some help to give their kids the tools to succeed.
You closed your speech today with an anecdote about a share-holder who was disappointed in your approach on green initiatives. You said, you do things because “they are the right thing to do.” At the risk of “getting your blood up”, I will in a similar way take on the role of that share-holder. In April of this year it was reported that Apple Forces Recyclers to Shred all iPhones and Macbooks. This report has supporting documentation included, and since we at Laptop Upcycle have seen that this shredding paradigm is common for most Fortune 500 (and smaller) companies, I have no reason not to believe the story is true. Please advise if it is not the case. Many of the Macbooks being shredded could still have several years of useful life in the hands of a needy student.
So, I’ve gone on a bit too long, but I will leave you with a simple challenge. You offered a positive vision in your commencement speech today. Assuming the report I describe above is true, I challenge you to live up to the vision you shared in Boston today and CHANGE your policy so that laptops you receive to be recycled are NOT ground up in to dust, but are received, wiped, renovated, and GIVEN to students who need them. It's the right thing to do.
In every community across America there are organizations we know are ready to help do what we’ve done in Montclair. We’re willing to accelerate our model and help these communities with procedures, training, and policies for making this work. But we need the donations of hardware to make it happen. Imagine if Apple were to “Think Different” and not grind up recycled laptops, and instead help us to GIVE them to those who need them.
Our mission from above can therefore be generalized as follows: Every young adult in school who needs a computer to learn should have one. If they can’t afford one, we should find other ways to make it happen. Will you help us and show that Apple is a leader? If you have any doubts, check in with Pope Francis. I suspect you know what he will say. Please contact me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Bonesteel, co-founder Laptop Upcycle