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Opening Arguments

Distraction traction

So we have the youngest, hippest, coolest president since JFK, and he admits he doesn't even know how to work an iPod, an iPad, an Xbox or a Playstation. Must be a bitter disappointment for those who were delighted to believe George H.W. Bush was ignorant of grocery scanners or who cheered on the Obama campaign for mocking John MCain's "computer illiteracy." But Obama has a reason for disliking all these new information dispensers (except, presumably, his Blackberry) -- they're evil:

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.

. . .information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," Obama said.

He bemoaned the fact that "some of the craziest claims can quickly claim traction," in the clamor of certain blogs and talk radio outlets.

"All of this is not only putting new pressures on you, it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy."

That damn, pesky democracy and all that distracting, inconvenient information to be sorted into truth and fiction! But this isn't a "new pressure" at all. In fact, we have achieved again what our ancestors once had with the penny press -- everybody putting out different versions of reality that must be sorted out. From many voices, one truth -- that's why the First Amendment has been so important in ensuring that all voices can be heard, not just the ones that please President Obama or his political opponents.

There's a serious issue lurking in there somewhere. The Founders presumed that people would be inclined to listen to all those voices and figure out something resembling reality. But we're so polarized today that we're more likely to stick with the information providers that reinforce our own beliefs. It's probably always been that way, just not as pronounced as it is today, and at least all those shades of opinion are out there for those who care to take them into account.


Mon, 05/10/2010 - 12:30pm

I agree that, politically speaking, it was a mistake for Obama to disparage those various electronic gadgets. After all, Obama's natural constituency is young people who go nowhere without them.
I think it's a stretch, though, to compare his ignorance of iPods (an ignorance I share) to Bush Sr.'s ignorance of grocery scanners.
That isn't a matter of age, it's a matter of how recently you actually made a purchase yourself. Kind of like admitting you don't know how the dishes get clean.
Nonetheless, I take your general point. Obama got that wrong.

tim zank
Mon, 05/10/2010 - 1:19pm

Littlejohns remark "That isn

Leo Morris
Mon, 05/10/2010 - 2:45pm

There's an interesting takedown of the "Bush amazed by scanner" story at snopes.com. Bush wasn't really shocked; some who have seen the tape of the incident say he was really bored and merely acting polite and curious. Even if it were completely true, however, a president's -- either Bush or Obama or McCain -- grasp of some current technology should be as irrelevant as a Supreme Court justice's understanding of "the average person" (see related post today). A president and a justice have a role to fill; I want them competent at it -- I can find drinking buddies and techno geeks anywhere. Besides, it would nothing short of amazing if someone reached the pinnacle of politics, with all the attendant help and assitance and advice, and didn't get a little out of touch.

Lewis Allen
Mon, 05/10/2010 - 10:49pm

Oh, C'mon Tim. Obama had 'everything handed to him'? BS.

Bob G.
Tue, 05/11/2010 - 7:53am

I feel there's a much more devious tone contained in Barry's message...
Personally, I'm not against technology, provisionally-speaking.
I just find that ALL this technology being thrust at us IS distracting (one must look no farrther than texting while driving), while INFORMATION is rarely "distracting", but THE O would have us believe otherwise.

We rush to get the latest "gadget", and that by itself can distract us from more pressing matters...matters that are sliding under our noses faster than we can blink.

It seems like whatver information is discovered about HIM or his ADMINISTRATION is distracitng "him" from HIS agenda, which can't bode well for the masses who still value a little something like FREEDOM.

Granted that the techonolgy allows faster and more comprehensive access TO such information, and we can make better decisions BASED on the rapidity of the acquisition of such information.
But it should never be turned back against us, for the sake of some photo -op.

"The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes."
--Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of Knowledge Bill, 1779. FE 2:221, Papers 2:526

Kinda says it all...

Lewis Allen
Tue, 05/11/2010 - 5:25pm

Kinda says it all, except about 99% of the anti-Obama e-mail I get is absolute bunk. Of course, in Jefferson's day, it was a lack of quick communication that cost Jefferson votes when the rumor was spread by mail that he had died.