Obama crackin' wise on technology?

(photo: Shutterstock image)

In a recent commencement address at Hampton University, President Obama said this:

“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 that high on the truth meter.  And 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 all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.”

This statement has created quite the controversy…as is reasonable to expect anytime somebody disses an Apple product or a gaming console. Let’s just be thankful that he dissed the XBox and the PlayStation equally. Otherwise we might have a riot on our hands.

One of the reactions to the statement is Obama’s admission that he doesn’t “know how to work” the iPod, iPad, XBox, etc. This was, of course, just an exaggeration to make a point. But it’s ironic that it - by itself - added to a large “distraction, diversion, a form of entertainment” for many people.

One of the other reactions has to do with the assertion Obama makes about the “24/7 media environment” and how it can’t be trusted, spreads lies and puts a lot of pressure on us and our democracy. He does have a point. There is a lot of misinformation out there and our government is now run by politicians who cater to 30-second sound bites that will push their polling in one direction or the other. They love the “diversion” when it gets them into office. They hate it when it puts their opponent into office. The irony of who is making this statement runs thick here as well. I’m on Obama’s mailing list. I know exactly how his team uses electronic media to spread misconception and bombard us with content that “doesn’t always rank that high on the truth meter.”

These are of course, however, political games that have been played since the beginning of time.  They are just played at a faster pace now and are that much more powerful (and devastating).

But if we can get past all of that stuff, Obama does make a wise point. Information is more often a distraction for us than a “tool of empowerment.” I think that’s true for most people. I know it’s true for me on many days. The Church has been warning about this for a long, long time now. But more and more people are starting to actually experience it first-hand. So we’re waking up. It’s a good thing.

What we have to be careful of, though, is not to let this experience necessarily shove us to an extreme. This is also a great part of the Church’s wisdom on this. Just because the excessive flow of information can be a distraction, doesn’t mean we should cut off the flow entirely.

If you want your children not to drown, don’t shelter them from swimming pools - teach them to swim. It’s the same idea here.

We need to jump in and learn how to navigate the information flow. It can be dangerous - this is true. That just means we have to be a bit more cautious, a lot more disciplined and far better equipped. But if we can manage that (and I know we can), then we’ll have one heck of a powerful tool. And I’m a big fan of power tools.