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      CommentAuthorMG
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.1)
    "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 all that high on the truth meter," Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia.

    "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," Obama said.


    Two things:
    First, this is the same President who fought hard to keep his Blackberry so the "I don't know how this razzum-frazzum thing" works argument is kind of disingenuous. The President of the United States being proud of technological ignorance doesn't sit well with me. Tech isn't magic.

    Second, the word emancipation. That's a powerful word from the first Black President. Even in some graduation address, it's about as loaded a word as you get. The notion that information tech, as it's being used, is leading away from empowerment and emancipation, that's disturbing.

    I work with young adults. They're deeply connected to technology, but they're still brilliant and curious and skeptical. Actually, I think they're MORE skeptical, wanting to check things out before trusting a first source. Anecdotal evidence, but still.

    Viewing technology as a noisy distraction reduces the power of that technology. All those gadgets are amazing tools for learning, information distribution and collaboration.
    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.2)
    Since when have videogames had anything to do with information and the distraction or diversion thereof? Pandering of the worst kind that is, always annoys me when we're dragged out, yet again, as some kind of social illness. And why pick on Apple, Microsoft and Sony yet not mention Nintendo at all? Despite the fact that your average US kid is far more likely to have a gaming device from Ninty in his home than any of the others.

    Only one more generation to go and then the people getting into power will have lived in a world where videogames have always existed. Of course, by then there'll be something else to pick on.
  1.  (8201.3)
    Entertainment is something you watch. It's a story like a soap opera. What Obama is railing against is News as something you see, rather than something you use to get involved in the world. What that has to do with the PS3/360 I'm at a loss to explain. It wasn't one of his better phrased speeches.

    There was also a good amount of follow-up on how a 24/7 information environment gets filled with the stupidest crap, much of it completely untrue. Bullshit designed to sell a narrative rather than inform. This isn't a viewpoint I have a problem with.

    As for the use of the word "emancipation", that was one of the better bits in there. From the article I first read about this-

    Hampton University is a historically black college, and Obama noted the huge disparity in educational achievement between African Americans and other racial groups in the United States and the world.

    Judging by the speech setting, I'd say that word was very carefully chosen.
    •  
      CommentAuthorMG
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.4)
    @Flabyo:

    I'd argue that Xbox live and (to a lesser and broken extent) Playstation Home are information hubs. They're a big part of how millions of users get their content.

    It's the broadside attack on "gadgets" that gets to me. College students use iPods to read e-books, listen to lectures as well as music and gaming. Using technology as a teaching tool is something smart educators have been embracing for ages.

    What really grinds my gears about this is him saying "I don't know how these things work" and then making them out to be villains. That's profoundly ignorant.
    •  
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010 edited
     (8201.5)
    After watching the speech

    the segment of concern starts at about 7:50

    I think the "I don't know how these things work" line had little to do with demonizing electronic media. Obama is pretty well known for his self-deprecating humor, both in his speeches and his books, and I think this was a small joke at his own expense, something maybe to take the edge off a pretty tough speech (commencement speeches always are). It got a few polite chuckles, and I think that's all it was meant to do.
    • CommentAuthorSteadyUP
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.6)
    Also, being experienced with video games isn't the same thing as using a Blackberry, and the iPad just came out. The only thing that would be inexcusable, if true, is the iPod. And I certainly don't believe that's true.
    •  
      CommentAuthorMG
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.7)
    @Steadyup:

    Then why is he lumping all these devices together to begin with? Outside of simple rhetorical convenience, it's a cheap broadside.

    It carries a generational stigma really "Oh you kids, with your Xboxing and yer nintendoting, you're ruining your brains". That sounds patently ridiculous when you consider how much of our economy is tied into application development, how many small and mid-sized businesses have been built around things like Xbox Live and the App store. Hell, musicians, comic book creators, writers all are looking to these devices as the future of delivering their work.
  2.  (8201.8)
    Viewing technology as a noisy distraction reduces the power of that technology.


    I find it very telling how any remotely negative view of that "entertainment" use of technology makes some people very, very angry.Like you're insulting their religion.

    Right, Roger Ebert?

    If something like Obama's quote is pissing someone off, they should step back and re-examine the role these toys have in their lives.
    •  
      CommentAuthorMG
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.9)
    @William George:

    Well, you cut my statement in half, which pretty much addresses what you're talking about.

    Again, these devices aren't just about entertainment. That's dismissive. There are applications that help juvenile diabetics track their glucose, create interactive reading experiences for children and provide a pretty endless array of information on any subject you can imagine.

    Neil Gaiman made the point recently about how these devices are going to drive more people to e-books for a very simple, and overlooked, reason; scalable text. Any librarian will tell you that large type editions often out-strip their regular sized counterparts. Aging population in the US+ebook scalability=game change.

    Banging on about the evils of games and electronics is silly for a world leader.
  3.  (8201.10)
    The only interaction reading needs is turning the page. :)

    More seriously, the XBox, PS3, and Wii are only about entertainment. They're specifically and exclusively entertainment devices. The problem with that single line in a much longer speech is that those devices have nothing to do with the broader points being made. Mentioning them just muddies the waters.
  4.  (8201.11)
    I think Obama has a point. We are bombarded with information during nearly every waking hour, and the number of sources that information comes from has exploded exponentially as technology makes it easier for anybody, anywhere to broadcast virtually anything to the rest of the world. For those sophisticated enough (and skeptical enough) to filter out the BS that isn't a problem--but for the gullible and/or stupid (i.e. those most likely to view politics and world news as entertainment in the first place), the results can be ugly. See the teabagger movement in the US, for example. Those idiots have processed so much bogus information from bloggers, podcasts, youtube videos, fake television entertainment news, etc., they now have a huge arsenal of "information" to back up their nonsense about birth certificates, healthcare death panels, gun violence statistics, et al...

    Viewed in that context, I think a pretty strong case can be made that these people (and many others) have, literally, been distracted by echo-chamber infotainment at the expense of processing legitimate information. They live in a manufactured reality that is reinforced every minute of every day by terrabytes of BS streaming onto ipod screens, televisions, blogs, podcasts, etc.

    Technology is certainly a valuable tool with amazing potential for good, but I think it's probably a good idea to be reminded once in a while that it also has its pitfalls...
    •  
      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.12)
    information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation


    This is the point. This is what you should be paying attention to. This observation is valid.

    You have a variety of tools that provide you always-on access to an electronic library of human knowledge the like of which has never before been seen, that was barely ever imagined, before it came to be.

    What are you doing with it?

    iPod (Music, mainly, and TV shows and movies. Can be used to listen to lectures, etc., but most often isn't. The question is how will you use it?)
    iPad (Hobbled internet device, lots of apps that do not much of anything useful, possible reading device linked very closely to established media outlets - will most likely be used by most to watch TV and Movies, listen to music, and play pointless social games. Can be used as a much more worthwhile tool, but most often won't be. The question is how will you use it?)
    xBoxes and Playstations (Immersive gaming experiences that drown attention in mostly contentless spectacle. Drains cognitive surplus just as shamelessly as Television always has. Could be used better, but mostly won't be. How will you use them?)

    It isn't a mistake to lump these things together in this context. These are tools that sit between a lot of people's brains and the growing body of electronically stored human knowledge. These are the tunable filters we voluntarily use. How are we using them? What are we deliberately filtering? What are we allowing to monopolize out attention by default, without giving it much thought?

    I occasionally work with younger children (10 to 12 year olds), and in my direct experience these things are an enormous influence, and usually a bad one. Not because they have to be, but because they are used thoughtlessly.

    If you use these filters and do not thoughtfully tune them, and do not engage the world actively based on the information you receive through them, then they aren't tools of freedom, but voluntary shackles.

    Point of the speech, it seems to me.
    • CommentAuthorSteadyUP
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010 edited
     (8201.13)
    @MG - rhetorical convenience. And it does carry a generational stigma, but statements made by people not of our generation often do. Just how things are. Honestly, what surprises me is not what he said but that he said it to young people. An audience over 30 and I wouldn't even have blinked.
  5.  (8201.14)
    Again, these devices aren't just about entertainment. That's dismissive. There are applications that help juvenile diabetics track their glucose, create interactive reading experiences for children and provide a pretty endless array of information on any subject you can imagine.


    Good for the makers of that technology! But it isn't what Obama was speaking negatively about.

    As TPOS said, technology is a tool. It just constantly gets used as mindless distraction. For me, the fact that the "mindless distraction" part raises far more of an emotional response than the "tool for emancipation" part is a big problem. Why did more people fly into a rage over Roger Ebert saying games can't be art, rather than over Apple's walled garden? Or invasive DRM measures? Or the seeming end of net neutrality? Or FaceBook's privacy issues?

    Obama didn't bash technology. He bashed using it like a mindless drone. Since most people do use it that way, and get very "Al-Quaeda" about it, he should be listened to.
    •  
      CommentAuthorMG
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.15)
    @Steadyup:

    It does seem really odd to be addressing people who came of age in in the era of iPods and broadband access that way.

    What gets under my skin about this really is how woefully ignorant (or playing at such) politicians are about technology, if not science in general. Especially the role the technology plays in people's day to day lives. An Xbox live account is more that just a way of keeping track of Halo scores, and an iPhone is more than just Peggle on your mobile. They're platforms for communication. The old argument of "put down your tech and go play outside" is less and less valid as technology starts to disappear into the very fabric of our daily life. Like saying "Stop with those woven fibers and put on some damn cotton"

    Worth noting: Obama placed advertisements in video games back in 2008.
    •  
      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2010
     (8201.16)
    What gets under my skin about this really is how woefully ignorant (or playing at such) politicians are about technology, if not science in general.


    MG, I think you are reacting to a (well earned) perception of technical ignorance among politicians as a class which is actually not a problem with Obama and not actually present in this speech.

    He's not denigrating specific tools, he's warning about a very obvious and valid danger in a 24/7 media information environment. It could perhaps have been phrased in a way that wouldn't bug you so much, and clearly his attempt at self-deprecating humor fell flat for you, but seriously - every move he made throughout his campaign, and his sophisticated understanding of the issue he is actually talking about in the speech point to the clear reality that he is not ignorant about technology and not playing at ignorance.

    As William George above has pointed out twice now, it's worth taking a step back and looking at your own assumptions about technology if your immediate reaction to hearing a cogent critique of always-on media noise is to suspect the person making that criticism of technophobia.

    He is absolutely not saying "put down your tech and play outside". He is saying "don't cocoon yourself with trivial use of tools from the factual world".
    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2010
     (8201.17)
    they should step back and re-examine the role these toys have in their lives.

    An extremely significant one for many many people.

    It's true that many children do play with them too much. Same as there are kids who are allowed to watch too much TV, or spend too much time on sunbeds, or in the park drinking cider with their friends.

    But far more people take genuine pleasure from them, for many they're an escape that is far more stimulating for them than watching the tv or even reading a book. In the far east gaming simply doesn't carry the stigma that it still seems to have in the US, it's seen as just being part of the wider entertainment spectrum rather than some evil ghetto where only the nerds and social outcasts hang.

    Yeah, fair enough it's not really the point Obama is trying to make, but the fact that that was both my reaction to it, and the reaction of a lot of industry types, probably tells you that we feel a little over persecuted sometimes.

    Maybe someone in a position of power could actually stand up and say something nice about us for once (and not just when there's an election looming, I'm looking at you here Chancellor Darling...)
  6.  (8201.18)
    •  
      CommentAuthorMG
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2010
     (8201.19)
    @Oddbill

    As Flabyo put it, it's that it's so easy to just take a shot at "gadgets" and how rarely you see leaders, let alone politicians, making anything other than a sweeping generalization or oversimplification. Apps, of all kinds, are multi-billion dollar industry. Gaming itself, as entertainment as well as social movement/ethos, can't rightly be ignored.

    He is absolutely not saying "put down your tech and play outside". He is saying "don't cocoon yourself with trivial use of tools from the factual world".
    Actually, he's said just that on a prior occasion. Which didn't sit well with Microsoft as you might imagine.

    Odd thing to note, Obama's comments in both these cases were to largely African-American audiences.
    •  
      CommentAuthoroddbill
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2010
     (8201.20)
    Actually, he's said just that on a prior occasion.


    But he didn't actually say that. What he said, in the context of a statement about responsible parenting:

    To parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and fail to support them when they get home. For our kids to excel, we must accept our own responsibilities. That means putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. It means attending those parent-teacher conferences, reading to our kids, and helping them with their homework...


    That is not at all saying "put down your tech and play outside" at all, and it isn't being a luddite or demonizer of technology. It's not even an attack on gaming. It simply isn't. He's saying don't let your kids stay up late playing video games when they are going to school the next day.

    Again, this isn't an attack on technology, it's an insistence that we make conscious, deliberate choices about how we allow technology to shape our lives.