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Obama: technologies are nothing more than a fun distraction

Obama’s commencement speech

President Obama’s remarks at Hampton University’s commencement ceremony have raised eyebrows across traditional and new media outlets and social networks as he points to modern technologies and the accelerating pace of information exchange.

The President said to the graduating class of 2010, “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.”

Mixed responses

While some agree with Obama that the rising pace of information shared online is exacerbated by mobile technologies like the iPad, technology bloggers are speaking negatively of the statements. The consensus in the technology industry is summarized well by Austin American Statesman tech culture journalist, Omar Gallaga, “I’d be a little more inclined to go along with the message if this wasn’t the president who couldn’t let go of his beloved BlackBerry when he went into office. So it’s not a distraction if you’re the president? iPods and iPads and PlayStations are mere distractions, but a RIM smartphone can help you run the country and empower you?”

What I personally hear the President saying is that there is a lot of misinformation, especially online and it is perpetrated and accelerated by technologies such as the iPad. Although I understand the sentiment of not being able to control the message in this era of rapidly moving information sharing, it seems inappropriate of a President to telegraph such a feeling.

In the real estate industry, agents are on the forefront of using technologies in their practices and if on one hand politicians are addicted to their Blackberries, have a presence on every social network known to man, yet point to these same technologies as a “diversion,” there is a breakdown in understanding exactly what is happening with technology and communication. Business owners and practitioners increasingly rely on the internet and supporting technologies to bolster their business and tech literacy has become quite important and will continue to do so.

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As Obama wags his finger at the spread of misinformation, he administers his own brand of misinformation at Hampton University’s commencement speech. It is disappointing that the leader of the free world is calling information “entertainment.” He is undermining the entire tech sector and critical innovation based on his own lack of understanding of what it is he criticizes.

Watch the commencement speech:

We invite you to see the entire commencement speech by watching below or by reading the transcript here.

CC Licensed image courtesy of jurvetson via

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Cathy Benavides

    May 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Great post Lani!!! I totally agree with you. While there is definitely misinformation out there, and things can sometimes get a little out of hand, it’s totally ridiculous to lump all technology and information as a distraction. It makes a president who prides himself on being on the cutting edge sound old, stodgy and out of touch.

  2. Andrea Schulle

    May 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    I completely agree with Cathy and add that our president should know what an iPad is and how to use the damn thing! He should also understand what technology implications – if any – come from the innovation. And by god, we are in the 21st Century…aren’t we supposed to be innovative and technology laden…that’s what Buck Rodgers taught me. 😉

    Asking him to solve a quantum physics problem – hell no – that is why he is supposed to surround himself with greatness.

  3. Greg Ackerman

    May 10, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Agree that Obama seems misinformed and out of touch. It’s also disappointing. Omar, however, made a good point, he both enjoys his technology (eg. Blackberry) and benefits from it. That said, I’m not sure how concerned the tech sector needs to be about the President’s comments. The media is rightfully standing up for their content. I just don’t want to see them over do it and blow things out of proportion. Then the issue can take a life of it’s own.

  4. SteveBeam

    May 11, 2010 at 12:05 am

    What a dope!

  5. Ruthmarie Hicks

    May 11, 2010 at 12:40 am

    I wouldn’t have agreed with Obama on this until just recently. As many know, I used to be a biomedical researcher. By trade I was a molecular biologist, but one of my degrees was in microbiology & immunology. So I watched the Frontline special on Vaccine Wars with interest. The amount of wild misinformation on the forums and on the air was mind-boggling.

    The difficulty with actual data and actual facts and peer reviewed research is that it is complex and time consuming to wade through. Full understanding often requires specialized education and a command of facts that few possess. What you find is a many parents who do not wish their pseudo-science that is easy to digest, challenged with real data and true facts. The “vaccines cause autism” rumor spread like wild-fire over the web and has no basis in fact. Studies conducted independently in numerous countries has shown the same results – vaccines and autism are unrelated. It appears that the information highway creates a situation where facts cede ground to wild rumor. No one wants their conspiracy theories disrupted with common sense and fact.

    All we need is one person on a plane carrying a major disease that parents are refusing to immunize their children against and we’ve got a serious public health problem that could cause many deaths.

    Sorry for the example which is totally unrelated to real estate. But after seeing that special and reading the related forums – I get his point. My email is even being spammed by a bunch of anti-vaccine groups because I commented on a science question of the Frontline forum…

  6. Jesse Olive

    May 11, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    “iPods and iPads and PlayStations are mere distractions, but a RIM smartphone can help you run the country and empower you?””

    Yes, that is the most powerful tool of all four items mentioned in this question. Anybody that runs a business using technology knows a smart phone is one of the most useful and revolutionarily impactive inventions in a long time. You can communicate in every way with exception of in person. They take video, photographs, you can take notes, voice memos, handle email, social media, they run a plethera of applications. You can balance your books, manage projects, the list goes on. OH, wait! You can actually talk voice! AND it goes into your pocket, purse or hooks onto your belt easily.

  7. Colleen

    May 11, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    I’m surprised Obama would say this. Wasn’t one of the reasons he had a strong campaign was his effective use of technology and social media?

  8. Nick Sweeney, DotLoop Social Media

    May 12, 2010 at 9:29 am

    I think a bit of context and nuance is needed here. I would tend to agree with Jesse Olive – a smart phone is a tool and a Playstation and an iPad are games and gadgets designed to consume rather than create. We need to know the difference between a tool and a toy.

    But the context of this speech was about education and I think that this message is being overlooked. As a twenty-nine year old whose job requires the Internet, I would tend to agree with the President on this one – the vast majority of what’s on the Internet isn’t “information”, it’s top-ten lists and grabby, attention-seeking headlines or fear-mongering opinion pieces designed to get you to click, not think. The uproar over this speech is proof of that – no one is looking at the context of the entire speech; they’re simply cherry-picking this quote and having a knee-jerk reaction.

    I use the Internet every day and I both love and hate it. It’s a tool for sure and information is out there – but so is a lot of misinformation. More than any other communication device, the Internet allows rumors to become memes that people end up believing are true. This speech was more of an indictment of the press and the media than it was on the Internet itself.

    When the notion of death panels can go from silly rumor to a national debate thanks to a lot of misinformation, I think it’s healthy and necessary to question the double-edge sword that is the Internet, even if it is a society’s “sacred cow”.

    True education comes from dissecting and reading in between the lines and being able to put information into proper context. Adding a bunch of misinformation into the mix only makes such deciphering more difficult to come by.

    I love the Internet, but sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming, if not ridiculous. Here’s my take on the whole thing:

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