Obama on “iPods, iPads, Xboxes, and PlayStations”: “Information Becomes a Diversion”

At a commencement at Hampton University, President Obama warned the students that our gadgets have turned information into a “diversion” and “distraction.” I feel his pain, but I’ll have to disagree (after I read about the history of Goldfish crackers on Wikipedia).

Obama BlackBerry

President Obama gave a commencement at Virginia’s Hampton University over the weekend, and used part of his speech to criticize, as he’s been doing publicly since his fantastic smack-down of Republican House members, the torrent of incomplete information or downright incorrect information that flows so easily in the modern 24-hour news cycle. He added in what seems at first to be a little dig at gadgetry–but really, he’s not criticizing the hardware or software so much as the content.


“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.

Putting aside the fact PlayStations aren’t exactly prime fighting ground for news outlets (certainly not as much as the President’s own beloved BlackBerry), this isn’t a gadget-bash at all. Obama isn’t expressing a problem with the iPhone–the problem is that you can read about “death panels” on an iPhone whenever you want.

It’s not a new problem, and maybe shouldn’t even be looked at as a problem–there is a huge variety of content that’s easily available these days, and while a lot of it is garbage, it’s also incredibly easy to instantly get a balanced view from differing publications. Even more, while the democratizing effect of the Internet opens the door for nutballs like Glenn Beck, it also allows views independent of mainstream journalism that are often just as valid. Matt Drudge, Nate Silver, Wonkette, Politico–they all have valuable points of view, and without having to be filtered through a massive ancient publication hierarchy, they can express those points of view directly to the people. Obama’s right when he says “we can’t stop these changes, but we can adapt to them.” We don’t have to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s podcast, or watch endless .gifs of Glenn Beck crying (although that last one is worth a look). Obama isn’t swearing off technology, he’s just reminding us to be careful what we listen to, read, and watch. Now back to Wikipedia to finish reading about Australian fauna. Cassowaries are seriously weird, you guys.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).


About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law