We live in an age where technology is connecting us to a font of up-to-the-second information. When there was that volcanic eruption in Iceland, how quickly did you know about it? This immediacy and connectiveness is both a good thing and bad, according to President Obama, who spoke over the weekend at Virginia's Hampton University.
"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," President Obama said, with words that quickly make one recall the misinformation we were all subjected to: Is Obama a Muslim? Are "death panels" part of the health care bill? Does Obama have a U.S. birth certificate?
He continued: "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."
So what makes an iPod or an Xbox any more distracting than, say, that Blackberry that never seems to leave Obama's hand? Sure, when you think Blackberry you think of a business power user, but, in reality, it has access to all the same content as an iPad or PlayStation, it's just packaged a different way.
I do understand what Obama is saying, and I agree. It's certainly easy for bad information to spread, or for something that seems funny at first to turn harmful, such as it is with online bullying. What I take issue with is the idea that the category of devices presented represent a greater distraction than a Blackberry.
On an iPod you could vapidly listen to music all day, sure, but you could also listen to music that inspires you, or news podcasts that inform you. On a PlayStation you have access to the web just like you would on a computer, and access to one of the best Blu-ray players with which to watch films. The iPad is new and has been criticized as a toy for consumers only, but there's something to be said for consumption as the device itself has spurred the sale of over 1.5 million books since its release. Books!
The Xbox, too, I see as a bridge more than a wall. Just last night I learned last night that there's a scare about tained lettuce in the state I live in. I didn't learn it from a news feed, I heard it from a friend as we chatted during a game of Halo: Reach.
In the end, I imagine that President Obama and I would both agree that it's how you use these gadgets and what content you take your time up with that counts. I'll also concede that I don't have to talk to a nation filled with parents who let their kids ditch homework for another few hours of gaming.
All I'm saying is that I can imagine a scenario of abusing any one of these gadgets and while I do think it is important to be aware of negatives, I can't help but see the value in them as tools for accessing information that enables that information to be empowering.