You Want Us to Believe You Can't Use An iPod, Mr. President?

Remember that cranky old relative, or neighbor, who told you to stop listening to crazy stuff, or to stop wasting so much time on computers? Of course you remember such a person--because they were and are everywhere. On the other hand, no doubt you also had relatives, and neighbors, and teachers, who encouraged you to try new things and think new thoughts--and that’s good, because, let’s face it, new technology is the lifeblood of our economy, and better communication is the key to our functioning democracy.

But one way or the other, we all grew up with someone who said that everything new was a bad idea. Well, now, those cranky curmudgeons have been joined by the president of the United States. He, too, thinks that new technology is dangerous, especially if it means you will pay less attention to official news.

Yup, this is the same Barack Obama who, in 2008, was the high-tech candidate of cool, whose campaign built a list of 13 million people, many of whom were “Friends of Barack” on Facebook and other cutting-edge websites. Indeed, two years ago, it seemed that in Obama we would finally get a President who was truly in tune with the rhythms of social-networking, Tweeting, and videogaming.

Sigh. That hope was so 2008. On Sunday, in a commencement speech to Hampton University in Virginia, Obama vented his anti-technology spleen to a bunch of 20-somethings, who must have been amazed at what they were hearing from the presidential podium: “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.” The president really doesn’t know how to work an iPod? More than 250 million have been sold around the world since 2001--and the 44th president can’t figure out how to use one?

And this is supposed to be the government that is going to overhaul federal broadband rules, and supervise the digitalization of all our medical records? Other tech challenges loom ahead, too, from figuring out homeland security intelligence to capping leaking oil wells. Maybe now we know why those efforts aren’t going so well.

Interestingly, on Sunday night, I went to find the text of the president’s remarks on, and yet I couldn’t find that text, many hours after the president delivered it. I guess the White House no longer works weekends--so it sure would be a mistake to rely on to stay informed. But of course, come to think of it, it’s no great shockeroo that is increasingly Postal Service-like, because it was those same White House webmeisters who presided over the dud-data-fiasco of last year. So that’s our president and his team, slowing the pace of technology and information down to a more leisurely pace. I guess that’s how we will compete with the Chinese and the Indians.

Courtesy of AFP news service, I know that Obama also told Hampton grads, “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.”

Oh my. If I could be permitted to translate the condescension, the president was saying, “Kids, I am telling you the truth: All those other guys might be lying to you, and you’ll never figure it out, so it’s best to just ignore them, and pay heed only to approved channels of communication.” Like, say, PBS or CBS.

That’s the way it is in Obama-land: Stay away from new sources of information, stay away from new technology. Trust authority. Obey.

There is, of course, another way of looking at this explosion of technology. And that is, amidst this welter of machines and modalities, whole new ways of staying in touch--from Google to Web 2.0 to social-networking to augmented reality--are being developed. And in their development, we will see not only new industries and new jobs, but also new kinds of politics and governance.
But what am I saying? What am I thinking? Instead, I’m supposed to listen to the president when he says don’t trust any of that newfangled stuff.

James P. Pinkerton is a writer and Fox News contributor. He is the editor/founder of  the Serious Medicine Strategy blog.

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