On Sunday May 9th, The President of The United States delivered the commencement address at Hampton University in Virginia.
Among his remarks were the following:
“And meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.”
I read the transcript of the entire address as it was delivered, along with the transcript “as prepared for delivery”. The only difference between them in this paragraph was The President’s comment “none of which I know how to work”. Otherwise, The President stuck exactly to this carefully-scripted paragraph of his speech. Nothing here can be taken as “out of context”.
As most SGU listeners know, we try our best to steer clear of politics, except when politicians try to thrust abominable legislations, policies, and actual laws upon the citizenry. We have confronted numerous political efforts attempting to introduce creationism into science school curriculums. We have called out politicians pushing bills to help advance unproven and non-scientifically based medical products and services. Astrology, remote viewing, UFOs, and other paranormal ramblings have popped out of the mouths of politicians, and we have, quite correctly, confronted these head-on. Politicians have tremendous power, and their words carry a great deal of weight and influence.
That being said, I find The President’s comments to be thoughtless, bordering on incoherent. Lumping iPods and iPads with Xboxes and Playstations, treating them as if they are all the same kinds of gizmos, is inaccurate at best, and ignorant at worst. Since when do kids or young adults derive media information via their gaming consoles? I admit that I am not the most “hip” person on the planet to know the finer workings of every game console, but I can’t help but cringe each time I read that line. Does The President have anyone advising him on technology?
As far as iPods and iPads go, these are devices that serve multiple purposes. Perhaps The President is sincere when he says he doesn’t know how any of them work – although it is an odd statement coming from a man who has an admitted addiction to his Blackberry. If the President is sincere in not understanding how these gizmos work, then how has he arrived at any sort of conclusion about how young people are ultimately utilizing these tools and toys?
Here are his words that bother me the most:
“ … information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”
This is a false dichotomy. The term “rather than” implies an “either/or” choice. Is The President not aware that information can be entertaining and empowering at the same time? One example that comes readily to mind is The SGU. Podcasting is an excellent example of how iPods and iPads are vehicles of education and information. The President believes that in the hands of young adults, these devices are nothing more than diversions and distractions. As a provider of services that are utilized primarily by younger adults, just how am I supposed to interpret this comment?
The final sentence of his paragraph is puzzling:
“So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.”
How is the rapid flow and access of information “putting new pressure” on The United States, our republic (technically, the USA is a democratic republic, not a democracy), or any single citizen? Is The President asking the graduates of Hampton University to impose self-limits on their access to information for the greater good of the country? I’m having a hard time just understanding the concept of “putting new pressure on our democracy”. Is this just empty hyperbole?
I believe that people want access to as much information as fast as can be obtained. The wants and desires of the people is what helped drive the innovation and technology that created iPods, podcasts, blogs, and all of the other modern day tools we use to communicate our thoughts and ideas. I understand the quality of any given piece of information falls on a spectrum, and that there are reasonable limitations to the exchange of information that must be abided by responsible citizens (such as limiting access to illegal materials.) But whether The President knows it or not, when he broadly and carelessly attacks these mediums, he attacks the people that make it all happen.
So when The President of The United States takes an unprovoked swing in your direction, you can’t help but get up your guard and take notice.