President Obama has apparently had a moment of epiphany and realized that new media and new technology can cleave young people from the truth and render them addicted to gadgets and entertainment. He said as much — attacking the iPod and iPad — at a speech to graduates of a college in Virginia last week.
The president is doubly correct. First of all, he is right (as I have written a number of times) that the Internet, Facebook and, yes, the new iPad and many other devices can interfere with people becoming wise and knowledgeable, rather than simply deluged with facts. They can also become estranged from real relationships and from themselves as they become obsessed with pretending to be stars on YouTube or worthy of “followers” on Twitter or popular with thousands of “friends” on Facebook.
Second, Obama is correct because his own ascension to power is a product of those very forces. He used celebrity and star power and the anonymous, pervasive reach of the Web to win his election. He is the iPresident — a product of the very forces that some part of him realizes are synthetic — and without substance and highly addictive. He is, as an early McCain television advertisement suggested, first and foremost, a celebrity in a celebrity-crazed country.
None of this discounts Obama’s astute observations about technology hurting people. Alcoholics can certainly warn, from experience, about the dangers of alcohol. Drug pushers can still speak to the dangers of drugs, from a pretty compelling perch on the carnage they can cause.
The trouble is that the president doesn’t seem to see this irony. If he did, he could speak as an addict and “pusher” of new media and technology, not just a critic.
The president is on to something. There could be hope here for self-reflection and for self-correction on his part — a search for substance over style, for reality over illusion. But that might mean pausing to consider whether letting adults stay on their parents' health care plans until age 26 might lead them to have fun with their iPads, instead of engaging with real responsibility. It might mean pausing to consider whether urging Americans to go buy homes to grab an $8,000 gift actually leads them to think rationally about their finances. It might mean pausing to consider whether bailout after bailout short-circuits the real wisdom of markets.
Mr. President, here is how to make your speech in Virginia truly (word choice intentional) revolutionary: Set a unilateral limit on the use of your campaign funds to pay for Internet-related activities in the next election. It would be a powerful step toward putting your money where your mouth is.
Second choice: Tax all new media aggressively because it is toxic, like fast food or tanning beds.
Why do I think the second idea would appeal to the administration more?
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.