Published on: May 17, 2010
Last Friday, I went on a rant that, I emphasized, was meant to be political. I wrote, in part:President Barack Obama said one of the dumbest things of his presidency the other day while giving a commencement address to Hampton University.
He was talking about the enormous amount of content available to people via various venues, and why it is important to differentiate between substance and noise. He’s absolutely right about that. But here is the dumb part:
"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.
First of all, I find it hard to believe that Obama - who has two young children - does not know how to work an iPod. It is almost inconceivable. This is, after all, a guy who hardly was seen without a Blackberry during the 2008 campaign, and an iPod is a lot easier to work.
Second, he may never have used an iPad, but he knows how to use one. Trust me on this. Obama is a very smart guy, and the iPad is incredibly intuitive.
The real problem isn’t Obama’s facility with technology. The real problem is that he apparently - and surprisingly - has something in common with a lot of people who take a kind of idiotic pride in being uninformed about certain things. Like the people who seem to think it is a badge of honor to never have learned to program their VCRs ... Stupidity is not a badge of honor. It is just stupidity.
Too many people in this country see education and intelligence as somehow suspicious.
There are simply too many people on the planet who take pride in their own lack of knowledge, their own closed-mindedness, their own ignorance. I’m shocked that Obama, for at least a few moments, cast his lot as one of them.
In 2010 and beyond, one’s facility with technology ought to be a job requirement if you are going to be in any sort of political, governmental, or business leadership position. Be conversant. Be experienced. And be proud of it.
Obama should have realized that iPods and iPads are tools of empowerment as well as means of distraction. What matters is the mindset of the person is using them.
His message should not have been the implied one of “iPods and iPads can be a distraction.” His message should have been, “Go out and create the next iPod or iPad.”
This rant provoked a lot of responses...
MNB user Richard Evans wrote:I do understand your annoyance with the President's statement, however, I take exception to your assessment of his intent.
You are right. He is not dumb and knows very well what an iPod is.
The rest of this seems to have flown right over your head. What Obama is saying is that he is very uncomfortable with what is being reported about he and his policies by the media. This includes the internet and all of the chatter thereon.
I feel he would very much like to control this. That’s my view and I'm sticking to it.
To be clear, I never said he didn’t know what an iPod was. I merely quoted him as saying he didn’t know how to work one.
MNB user Scott Simon wrote:Regarding your rant concerning President Obama’s remarks- I recall reading that he presented an IPod to the Queen of England and was soundly criticized for it. If correct it seems to me he is posturing to his audience.
Gosh. A politician posturing. Go figure.
What I cannot figure out is why a politician his age with his appeal would posture in this particular way.
Another MNB user wrote:Kevin, you COMPLETELY missed the point regarding President Obama lamentations regarding technology and information. You focused on the technology part, it seemed to me. Obama's message was about INFORMATION.
His comments were incorporated into a larger point -- that we have all kinds of media and forums through which political commentators and bloggers are free to espouse any position they wish with virtually no restriction. In his view, that has lead to information being a distraction and a diversion. In truth, he loathes the ease with which others can criticize and challenge his agenda via radio, internet, and other communications methods. He hates the notion that broad proliferation of dissent is enabled by the very technologies he called out.
His position is dangerous. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but there is no doubt Obama's intent includes government controlling the flow of information and the ability for people outside the administration to offer contrary political commentary and challenge his agenda. Look no further than the lack of media access to the new Supreme Court nominee. The White House produced the only "interview" seen thus far. Even left leaning media outlets are in a huff about that. Doesn't Obama's position ultimately lead to examples like China and Iran, which do not allow the free flow of information into and out of their countries?
My view: the free flow of information in the United States is sacred and required for a democracy BY THE PEOPLE. Sure, there are extreme and unfortunate outcomes like pornography and knuckleheads delivering twisted points of view. But government controlling the free flow of information across ANY technology should be seen as an unacceptable horror to those who love freedom.
Kevin, how would you like some government bureaucrat having oversight of your web content?
I don’t want to get into a political debate here, but I see no evidence to support your conspiracy theory. And it was just two weeks ago that he suggested in another commencement speech that people who watch MSNBC should also listen to Rush Limbaugh and read the Wall Street Journal
editorial page...and vice-versa.
Another MNB user wrote:Interesting that your rant seemed to be primarily related to the fact that he said he doesn't know how to use the tools (and appears to take pride in it), with only a small section at the end on the fact that he views these technologies as a distraction "rather than a means of emancipation." It seems to me that having information readily available, from a variety of sources and through a variety of devices is, by its very nature, taking away the ability of any one source of information becoming a controlling influence. Isn't that a form a emancipation??? What is he looking from emancipation from? Maybe he should dissolve his official website for disseminating information. After all, why is accessing his website via a computer any less of a distraction than via an ipod or ipad?
The fact that he has young children has nothing to do with it -- I've heard they are not allowed to watch TV during the week and they may not own video games or ipods. I would agree with him that these items can be a distraction when the kids should be studying . . . . .
MNB user Philip Herr wrote:I don’t think he was knocking the hardware, I think his comment was about the torrents of information. And in this respect I agree – I read dozens of newsletters each day (the only one I make a point of reading wherever I am is MNB – but enough sycophancy). My real challenge is sifting what is wheat from the enormous amount of chaff. Each of these devices enables a massive amount of chaff. And if that wastes our time and distracts us from what is real and important, then it really is a merely a diversion rather than a tool of empowerment.
Another MNB user wrote:I am sure he is smart enough IF he wanted to use and understand an iPod/iPad. I would think with all the forms of information that the Government has he really doesn’t need one.
What I do like is this President unlike the last know the English language and can speak INTELLIGENTLY in public . Kevin, I’m a bit surprised you call anyone let along the President of the United States stupid…
Still another MNB user admonished me:Stupid is not a nice word.
MNB user Mike McGuire wrote:I just wanted to let you know how much I agree with everything you said about the idea of stupidity as a badge of honor. You have perfectly articulated something that has been rolling around in my head for a long time – thank you very much!
And, from another MNB user:You hit the nail right on the head, and I thought the same thing when I heard it. The guy couldn’t get his Blackberry out of his hands .... seems to me I recall reading that the Secret Service went to some extreme measures to get him a "secure" Blackberry.
Beware, though ... you'll be accused of being racist because you dared speak ill of the anointed one.
MNB user John R. Wald wrote:I think you’re being too hard on the President. I don’t think he was citing his inability to work an iPod, iPad, Xbox, or PlayStation as a matter of pride; rather, he was poking a little fun at himself in front of a young audience, who would find it amusing that someone wouldn’t know how to use things that are such a big part of their everyday lives and would be flattered that they know how to do things the President doesn’t know how to do. His admission was just a rhetorical device to establish rapport with his audience and lighten his criticism of popular technology with some self-depreciating humor.
As to your comment that it is inconceivable that the President doesn’t know how to work an iPod, I don’t find it inconceivable at all. Since he’s spent the last six years or so running for the U.S. Senate, then running for President, and then being President, I find it entirely conceivable that he would have had no time to learn how to use an iPod. All those activities have required him to work at a hectic pace 16-18 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, so that he hasn’t been spending time listening to an iPod isn’t surprising at all. He hasn’t been living a normal life, so one shouldn’t expect him to do things that normal people do. I’m sure that he could learn how to use an iPod if he wanted to, but that he hasn’t taken the time to do so is understandable. He has had to carefully budget his time so that he is spending it only on things that are essential to his objectives. Learning to use a Blackberry was essential to his work, but learning to use entertainment devices such as the iPod, iPad, Xbox, and PlayStation were not.
Maybe it’s easy for me to conceive of someone not being able to work an iPod because I don’t have one and therefore don’t know how to work one. I’m confident that I could learn how to work an iPod if I wanted (I too know how to use a Blackberry), but I haven’t made that a priority. I know many people my age (I’m 55) who don’t have iPods, and while we’re probably in the minority among our generation, we’re a fairly large minority. We all need to make choices about how we want to use our time and what technology will enhance our enjoyment of life, and my choices aren’t necessarily going to be the same as yours.
Another MNB user offered:Take heart Content Guy! God, in his infinite wisdom, made each of us unique with different skills and talents. The fact that you cannot assemble a car engine, speak a foreign language, or understand opera are not flaws in your character, nor does it mean someone without these skills is stupid; they simply have not either had the opportunity to learn, or do not wish to learn these things. We all have to make choices about where we spend our time and effort and for me I would much rather pay someone to fix my engine than learn how to do it myself.
That said, I don’t think what the President said is stupid. I don’t think it rates in even the top ten stupid things he has said. It is, however, condescending. Once again, he tries to paint himself as a common man, rather than the elitist he is.
From another MNB user:Good rant, you said your commentary was not political and you were true to your word, it is refreshing that someone can clearly see and comment on the true reality of a situation no matter what political view they come from, Thanks Kevin!
Another MNB user wrote:I took his, Obama's, message as these things are a distraction to Americans and that they need to be controlled. Having several friends as grads or previously attended HU, they are pretty savvy folks and all of them that I have come in contact embrace the ability to get knowledge and info from these tools. Obama alluded to the fact that he disagreed with a lot of the information that was available during his healthcare run and I take it he wished that the majority didn't have access to it as he thought it was distracting them from getting his message.
Well, clearly the responses were all over the ideological map.
These emails are only about a third of the messages I got on this subject, and that doesn’t even count the long email dialogue I had with one of my younger brothers, who in another context I once quoted as saying that Apple users would buy an “iTurd” if Steve Jobs tried to sell us one.
Let me restate my point, just to be clear.
I never called the president stupid. What I objected to is the occasional position taken by people in which they seem to take a certain pride in their lack of technological understanding ... like being unable to program a VCR, or work a computer. I just think that some folks take pride in this stuff, and that being disconnected from this part of American life is nothing to be proud of.
I’ll stand by that.
In this case, the iPod was only the example of the moment. I wasn’t upset that Obama doesn’t know how to work this particular product...just that he’d missed an opportunity to make the point that products such as these - and the Blackberry, and the Droid phone, and a lot of other products - have changed the way we live, and that the challenge to these graduates is to pioneer the next change.
I’ll stand by that, too.
To coin a phrase, these kinds of products reflect change I can believe in.