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Obama Shockingly Out of Touch with Technology and Social Media

05.10.10

These latest comments from President Obama seem rather odd considering he blasts the very media that helped spread his hugely successful grassroots, Web 2.0 campaign that got him elected less than two years ago.

President Obama:

“With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

First off, lumping together iPads in with PlayStations shows the kind of ignorance that I don’t expect to see with him.  Especially not from a president whose administration spends so much time tweeting, blogging, vlogging, and reaching out to the masses through all of the social media networks.  While Xboxes and PlayStations remain predominantly video game consoles – although, more and more connectivity to the web and social media channels happens constantly, like being able to stream video from Netflix and YouTube – the iPod and iPad are much more than mere distraction devices.

This brings me to my next issue.  Perhaps if Obama himself knew how any of these devices – which is rather pathetic to admit that he doesn’t since he’s collecting income on all of the e-books he sells of The Audacity of Hope via iTunes – he’d know that just because newspaper circulation is plummeting, the subscriptions to newspaper and blog feeds are skyrocketing.  And where do people read those online newspapers and blogs?  Yup: on their iPods and iPads.  It’s one thing to not yet come to terms with the fact that Facebook isn’t just for teenagers to gossip anymore; it’s quite another to think that the iPod is just the modern-day Walkman.  I doubt colleges would be providing iPads to students instead of email accounts if they were only useful for dispensing entertainment.

It seems that Obama’s central argument is that there’s too much misinformation out there and the root of this is the proliferation of outlets for anyone with a voice (or fingers to type, most likely) to be read by the whole world.  I agree with him that there is far too much unsubstantiated opinion passed off as fact out there in the news-ish realm of blogs and the mainstream media; the insane necessity for balance has caused the misunderstanding that every position on an issue has validity simply because it provides counterbalance to the other positions to which it opposes.  Our media has forgotten that some positions are just wrong.

Where Obama and I differ is that I don’t think this misinformation problem lies in our modes of technology.  The problem is the widespread lies that people eat up as facts, not the way they happen upon those lies.

Despite this lack of awareness (how do you promote education yet admit knowing nothing about the very devices you blast — especially ones that are as ubiquitous as iPods), I agree with Obama’s conclusion that a strong education is the prime form of combating this misinformation.  And instead of blaming the increased democratization of information, perhaps we ought to focus our efforts on teaching people how to sift through the mounds of non-facts to find the basic truths of issues.  Those basics might not direct us all to the same conclusions, but at least we should arrive at them from an objective foundation rather than a disparate array of opinions.

I just don’t see how having unprecedented ease of access to both up-to-the-moment news as well as classic tomes of literature and everything in between could impede education.  Like NBC’s public service announcement slogan goes: the more you know.  There’s a reason it’s not “the more you believe.”

Image courtesy of DayLife/Getty Images
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