Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

Summary: President Obama says information can be a distraction and singles out the iPad and iPod. He could have included any smart device. Is information distraction a real issue?

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TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility
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President Obama raised a bit of a ruckus over the weekend: He dissed the iPad (along with the iPod, Xbox and PlayStation) for becoming an information distraction, a diversion where entertainment replaces education.

Obama made the remarks during his commencement address at Hampton University in Virginia. Here's the quote that got tech in a tizzy:

"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. 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."

Now there's some subtext here---politicians don't like it when there are too many information outlets to control and spin---and most folks caught onto those worries. But there is a larger issue here: Information can be a distraction.

This isn't about information overload per se. It's about managing data in your own lives. Anyone that has any kind of device knows how it's easy to hop around to snack on data and information. Even reading a book on the Kindle, which is supposed to disappear like a real paper book, has its distractions. Why? It has a crappy Web browser that at least allows to me to check stock quotes.

Here's the dynamic on your device (almost any device):

  • Launch app;
  • Read headlines;
  • Check Twitter;
  • Oooh that's funny;
  • Let me check email;
  • Back to book;
  • Ah but what about Facebook;
  • Oh I see someone lost a dog;
  • Poor thing;
  • Let me check stock quotes;
  • Back to that book;
  • Where's Andrew Mager on FourSquare;
  • What was I doing again?

Let's face it; I'm not sure there's a lot of education going on in the process. You've learned nothing in that process. But you sure did snack on a lot of information junk food.

Obama realizes that the genie can't be put back in the bottle, but you can see his argument. In my personal time, it's telling that most of my critical thinking---strategy, arguments formed, stories outlined, my real thoughts after listening to all the crap thrown at me---is formed away from a device. If all we do is snack on information when does that critical thinking happen?

Perhaps that's what Obama was getting at. As Jason Hiner, notes this information distraction issue also touches on business technology. You can analyze every data nugget your company has to offer, but that hardly translates to insight.

Here's Obama's full speech:

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

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50 comments
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  • So....

    He doesn't know how to work any of these devices, but he can still demonize them?

    Its great to see we have a president in the technology age that knows knowing about it.
    Stuka
    • I don't know how to work drugs and yet...

      I'm pretty resolute in demonizing them.

      In some ways digital devices are like drugs, it all depends on how you use them. I'd waver that intellectual maturity is a requirement to use them properly.
      OS Reload
      • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @OS Reload Is Ziff Davis FIFO method of adding comments an object lesson in the misuse of drugs? Which drug(s)? Are they sharing?
        LostValley
      • Technically, you probably do know how to work drugs.

        @OS Reload If it's a pill, you swallow it with a glass of water. Heroin, cocaine, cannabis, you are probably aware of what you would do, you merely choose not to - as do I. You could write a paragraph describing the procedures. You have seen them on television. The one to beware of, I think, is cannabis as an unexpected food ingredient; people have visited Dutch cafes with friends and assumed that they'd be safe just eating some cookies with their coffee - nope.

        Here's a test: nicotine patch. Do you pass? You see? You do know how.
        Robert Carnegie 2009
    • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

      @Stuka
      Well, to tell you the truth, I'm rather happy he DOESNT know how to work a PlayStation or an X-Box. He's the president of the free world for Pete's sake - he better be taking care of that and not playing xBox games!

      "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
      gnesterenko
    • RE: It's not about demonizing.

      @Stuka It's about managing information in a manner that is useful and enlightening. The discipline and critical thinking skills that allow us to make good of the copious amounts of information available are in short supply.
      Lester Young
    • He's probably kidding.

      @Stuka iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations are toys. If the President needs to know about them, he has kids.

      And yes: Internet access is empowering, but if used without personal discipline it's a mighty way of goofing off. I mean, should you be reading this now - really?
      Robert Carnegie 2009
  • This coming from a man who was elected

    by pushing his propaganda through the same channels he's now demonizing. The truth, his opposition is now becoming efficient with the same technology. This is about the Tea Parties.
    People
    • You think he's afraid of the tea parties?

      They provide him a foil just as the follies of the left provided Nixon a foil.
      Lester Young
  • Perhaps he has read Neil Postman's book

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/014303653X">Amusing Ourselves to Death</a>.

    Let's face it, the major news outlets have become an entertainment source, more about getting ratings as opposed to actually getting people to think and have open discourse and debate.
    Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • RE: I would agree to that.

      @JM1981 <br>One has to ask however why these news outlets have to resort to turning news into entertainment in the first place. I posit that it has something to do with the culture they are catering to.<br><br>So, in a capitalist society you get news entertainment upon the dumbing down of the culture. If the state ran the news, you'll get pure propaganda. Pick your poision.
      People
      • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @People
        Para 1 - right on target
        Para 2 - WHAT??
        A1 Data Management
      • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @People
        2nd para: Seams like you are saying people are smart in a socialist/communist/Marxist society but stupid in a capitalist society. Am I reading that right? If so, that seems backwards. Someone has to be less intelligent to allow the government to tell them what to do.
        pwabbit@...
      • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @pwabbit

        That's not at all what I read. What he said was, in the case of state run media, you get propoganda. I'm a bit confused as to how you were able to interpret that as people are smarter in a socialistic society.

        The real point to make here is that, intelligent folks, no matter in what society, A) avoid mainstream sources of media, or at the least, don't limit themselves to a single source and B) consume what I'll refer to as 'high-culture' media - IE, sector/industry specific magazines & other publications. Assuming of course, the availablity of such non-mainstream sources. I don't think the society has as much play as pundits would like us to believe.

        "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
        gnesterenko
      • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @People Paragraph #2 = exactly correct! But I would alter:

        Capitalist society you get news choices, full entertainment, full dialog, some more popular than others but all choices available. If the State ran the news, you'll get pure propaganda like in the USSR, Communist Block countries, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Cuba. Pick which is worse.
        phredtree
      • RE: RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @gnesterenko: posted: "I'm a bit confused as to how you were able to interpret that as people are smarter in a socialistic society."<br><br>"dumbing down of the culture" vs "pure propaganda"<br><br>Which culture sounds like it has been dumbed down? If both groups are dumbed down, why would the statement even be made? Hence the conclusion: @People was implying that dumbing down happens only in the Capitalist Society.
        pwabbit@...
  • RE: RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

    To People: It's nothing to do with the tea partiers or any other political group. This is one I actually agree with Obama on (finally got it right). At a family gathering I watched people conversing over their cell phones and other gizmos and realized no actual important or knowledgable conversation was taking place. Social apps and e-mail usually have no scholarly values and only demonstrate that most people have lost the ability to communicate face to face. Oh well if cybersex gets them off, at least they've discovered the cure for sexually transmitted diseases.
    partman1969@...
    • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

      @partman1969@...
      I am sure the same thing has been said about radio & TV. Unless we are staring face to face with nothing to do but talk, we will have lost the ability to communicate (face to face). When Obama was running for President, he was all about forwarding technology. He was presented to us as almost a geek. Now he doesn't even know how to operate the simplest devices. Social apps have provided the ability to communicate with far more people than normally would be possible. The "circle of friends" has been greatly expanded. Maybe that is the President's real issue.
      pwabbit@...
      • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @pwabbit@... Great points. At least Bush knew enough about an iPod to answer the question "What's on your iPod".

        I wonder if the president prefers that people sit in front of the boob tube watching whatever happens to be on instead of efficiently socializing.
        dmccall
      • RE: Obama's information distraction riff: A real issue?

        @pwabbit@... Exactly correct. I feel bait-and-switched! I am also (former Windows Fan (when they were a low cost platform with innovation aka late 1980's to mid 1990's) - former Linux fan) a strong Apple fan. Why would our president and his team us RIM devices made in Canada? Why not praise Apple for one of the greatest business turn arounds and greatest consumer technical achievements in a long history of technology? Odd spin.
        phredtree