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Tech President Obama disses iPads and Xboxes

Maggie Shiels | 14:11 UK time, Monday, 10 May 2010

We all know that Barack Obama is probably the most technologically comfortable president to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

President ObamaHe certainly put it to good use during his campaign for the White House, but that didn't stop him issuing a warning about how technology is being used in a 24/7 culture when he made the commencement address to over 1,000 students at the historically black Hampton University this past weekend.

(You can read the full transcript here.)

Dressed in a blue gown, (around 7 minutes 50 seconds in) the president said the era of the iPod and the Xbox has not always been good for the cause of a strong education:

"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."

Around 12 minutes in, the president expounds on how a politically polarising media culture posed a threat to democracy without well-educated citizens with open minds.

As many in the blogosphere have noted, they find it strange that a president who cannot live without his BlackBerry doesn't know how to use an iPad or iPod.

One commentator noted: wasn't it President Obama who gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod?


  • 1. At 3:29pm on 10 May 2010, Green Soap wrote:

    One commentator noted: wasn't it President Obama who gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod?

    Bought my mum a steam iron once. Doesn't mean I know how one works.

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  • 2. At 3:33pm on 10 May 2010, caroline saunders wrote:

    He tweets and blogs.... but from the backberry not the Iphone... however his election was a media blitz on all levels available. If he doesn't know how to use the toys or manipulate information he must be paying someone who does...

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  • 3. At 3:57pm on 10 May 2010, Aidy wrote:

    So technology is good…unless it's used for entertainment? Reminds me of when people thought frivolous books were dangerous works of the Devil and they were burned in pyres.

    Is Obama going to send Richard Euringer to collect our XBOXs and burn them on the Whitehouse lawn? And to think people say he is a forward-thinking politician.

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  • 4. At 4:58pm on 10 May 2010, Cameron wrote:

    I think he makes a good point. We are getting so used to being bombarded with information 24/7 that we have begun to devalue it. This creates a few problems:

    1. We don't know what to pay attention to
    2. We are often getting our views formed by spin rather than fact
    3. We don't really absorb information, so it doesn't have a chance to change us
    4. I personally don't really believe anything I read anymore, so I've become a disassociated cynic.

    As attached as I am to my iPhone I think its a good idea to disconnect sometimes.

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  • 5. At 6:14pm on 10 May 2010, EMC wrote:

    He who sees the flip-side of things, is very wise.

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  • 6. At 7:42pm on 10 May 2010, Greg Garriss wrote:

    Obama makes a good point.. People want to be entertained lemmings, not informed individuals. For most, a twittered revelation on cake mixes has higher importance than the news of a major disaster or the results of an election. Why deal with the gritty side of reality when you can pick a simple, structured world for the Xbox? Why explore the news when spin media can tell you about the important stuff and what you should think about it?

    When you let someone else think for you, you give them permission to shape our world to their advantage. Historically, this has always been a very bad thing...

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  • 7. At 7:51pm on 10 May 2010, Bert Difig wrote:

    "You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment ... And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations - none of which I know how to work - information becomes a distraction"

    Of course. I get all my news from my Playstation. It tells me all I need to know about the world. Well, ok my Playstation and the voices in my head... can't forget the voices in my head.

    Ok, seriously. First he's harping about media "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" ... then he goes off on X-Box as a sign of this?

    Who gets their news on their X-Box? Is there a "Local-Newscaster-Hero" game I'm missing that gets daily updates from possibly disreputable news sites? I doubt Guitar hero, or Halo, or whatever are really affecting the validity of the news you're receiving.

    Once again, our President has gone off-script and into drunken rambling. Or he doesn't even know what a Playstation is...

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  • 8. At 7:52pm on 10 May 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    Technology is a tool that can either make or break the user...
    Every year brings new generations of systems, software and hardware, but it matters less what system you have, than what you do with your system.

    People who use technology for brain candy become neurologically fat.

    I know kids that exercise their thumbs more than their minds, who bully online until it disrupts the classroom, and who can't write a complete sentence without using txt lingo. Its sad.

    He's right.
    It's better to use a tool than to be one.

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  • 9. At 8:01pm on 10 May 2010, Fluidly Unsure wrote:

    "Barack Obama is probably the most technologically comfortable president to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ... He certainly put it to good use during his campaign for the White House, "

    That almost implies that he is the president that used the Internet during his campaign. What about Ron Paul? Didn't he raise more than Hilary Clinton in a couple months thanks to grassroots social networking?

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  • 10. At 01:33am on 11 May 2010, Daniel Aberasturi wrote:

    There are many media groups affiliated with a party and the purity of a news piece is questionable depending on the source. He was just advocating for educated and informed citizens. Very appropriate for a commencement speech, I think...

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  • 11. At 06:31am on 11 May 2010, Chinook wrote:

    @Bert Difig

    Obviously Xbox doesn't give out the news, although news-caster hero would spark my interest. I think he's referring to the fact that students can zone out for hours at a time blasting mole people (chainsaw m16!) or shredding out some sick rifts (bring it, Slash!) rather than doing something constructive. Pong or asteroids weren't nearly as effective in keeping people's attention for such extended periods.

    As for iphones and a 24/7 access to the internet, online forums and 'blahgs' have the ability to disseminate news and information but have the potential to forgo even the slightest attempt at objectivity that reputable news sources might be obliged to work under. They're certainly more entertaining but can get everyone's knickers in a bunch and contribute to the polarization of public opinion with a deficit in good reason.

    Side note: Army of two is an awesome game that taught me about contract warfare without the consequence of death, and how to 'pimp my weapons' (increases your aggro rating) Played it for dozens hours. Didn't get my IR assignment in on time, didn't really learn anything relevant about private armies.

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  • 12. At 06:59am on 11 May 2010, Gregor wrote:

    He doesn't say the iPad, pod or whatever is bad. They are all "good" things, but they need to be operated by a mind capable of at least some critical thought. Same goes for TV, radio etc...Which used to be iPads of their era.

    Problme is in information and people not distinguishing wrong information from right, truth from lie.

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  • 13. At 07:37am on 11 May 2010, twoputtin wrote:

    I can hardly believe that the President of the United States actually got up in front of college graduates and made the most asinine comments about the uses of everyday communication and gaming devices that people have made a part of their daily lives. His comments didn't just dis the objects of entertainment and communication, but also dissed the users and inventors of those devices. He believes that people below his "power" level can not make good choices about the information that they receive and how to decimate that information for themselves; he believes that we need "people of power and the upper eschelon" to interpert for us. Again, the "nanny state" takes over. Aren't you sick of being thought of as stupid and unable to make choices for your self? Do you really need the government to make all your choices? Have we become a society of the dumb and dumber of liberal politics? Isn't it time to tell the government that no, we do not need them to interpert our news, health and financial well being for us? Yes Mr. Obama, believe it or not, we are smart, well educated people and we can make our own choices. Stand up America, or you will be forever put down by those in power.

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  • 14. At 07:51am on 11 May 2010, fisheye_view wrote:

    Critical analysis of Mr. Obama's statement exposes a very worrisome and not so veiled assault on the 2nd amendment. A possible indicator of a person that is being distracted in some way below the surface.

    Mr. Obama say - "information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation"

    Full Translation - I am not able to stem the free follow of information on the internet that I find distasteful or contrary to my agenda so now I consider "news, free flow of information and opinions" to the masses as adversarial to me, not the Presidency.

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  • 15. At 09:10am on 11 May 2010, Laumars wrote:

    @ 7. At 7:51pm on 10 May 2010, Bert Difig

    You said:
    Who gets their news on their X-Box? Is there a "Local-Newscaster-Hero" game I'm missing that gets daily updates from possibly disreputable news sites?

    My reply:
    Games consoles are internet ready and have been for a long time already (I remember surfing adult sites on my Dreamcast and that was over 10 years ago). Heck, I still get RSS feeds on my XBox Original.

    So while you are right that he doesn't really know what he's talking about, he is still closer to the truth than you're willing to admit.

    (sorry for cutting so much of your post out - it was done strictly to keep this post tidy as BBC comments doesn't support embedded quotes)

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  • 16. At 09:17am on 11 May 2010, Laumars wrote:

    Sorry, to clarify my above comment: basically these days a surprising number of people don't surf the net via their standalone PC or laptop. People use their phones, portable media players, media centres / internet TV sets, games consoles and so on.

    And when so very few people verify the facts they read (you only have to look at the number of dumb e-mails people forward on to see this in full effect), it's not surprising - correction: it's commendable - that Obama want's to raise awareness of this issue.

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  • 17. At 09:28am on 11 May 2010, Jamie wrote:

    I think that Obama is right about this (and I don't normally agree with politicians about much!).
    We have become merely consumers of informaton, rather that using information as a tool to improve our lives we just consume more and more.
    However I think that Obama is in no position to criticise us when he is doing nothing to try to stop this. The media companies write sensationalist stories to grab our attention in order to make us consume more content (and thus increasing their profits.) We consume this information at the expense of being able to fully absorb important information.
    I think it works a bit like the human digestive system. If you eat to much your body struggles to digest the food and you don't get all the nutrients from it. I think the same applies to media consumed.

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  • 18. At 10:06am on 11 May 2010, Leo wrote:

    "A politically polarising media culture poses a threat to democracy without well-educated citizens with open minds".

    Wow... If only his words were heeded... Imagine G W Bush uttering such an insightful statement. Or any centre-right politician for that matter.

    Obama just talks like a President should...

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  • 19. At 11:28am on 11 May 2010, Mistoui wrote:

    I felt this time that I had to comment, even though i never do. This is small blog is exactly what Barrack is talking about. You have people from all over the world taking every small insignificant comment, blogging about it, publishing it to the masses, and eventually blowing it out of proportion. Take the "none of which I know how to work" phrase for example. This is obviously there to reinforce the argument he is trying to make and make his speech lighter. The fact that he knows or doesn't know how to work those machines is irrelevant to the context.

    The other point is "the president expounds on how a politically polarising media culture posed a threat to democracy without well-educated citizens with open minds". This is self evident. The fact that there are people out there even commenting on this proves exactly Obama's point: Get some education people, see what others have said and written in the past, form a judgment of your own and most importantly, Be impartial. And do not go around believing every word you hear and following some nut job talking about aliens ruling the earth.

    Here is what i mean when i say this blog proves Obama's point. First, if you were educated enough you would've known how to understand a paragraph in English and how to build and defend an argument and you wouldn't have made this rather silly comment about whether or not Obama knows how to use an ipod. Second, if you were educated enough you would've known that his comments about being educated helps you become immune to the rubbish and gossip media and blogs that are out there is trivial: I mean just look at some of the other comments posted here.

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  • 20. At 11:45am on 11 May 2010, The Realist wrote:

    7. At 7:51pm on 10 May 2010, Bert Difig wrote:

    Coming from a British person I suggest you re-read what your President said.

    The Xbox comes under his comment about 24/7 entertainment which he also specifically mentions. I suggest you give Fox News a miss for a while, that channel is worse for propaganda than Hitler's old news machine!

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  • 21. At 1:59pm on 11 May 2010, iGlad wrote:

    The fact that we are arguing about whether or not he can use an ipod actually reinforces what he was saying about the dangers of technology and its effect on democracy!!

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  • 22. At 2:15pm on 11 May 2010, Oneperspective wrote:

    I can understand that the use of these technologies could be seen as a distraction from normal interaction in the world and so there is a danger of high quality educational resources being waisted.
    Alternatively devices such as ipad's and other devices with built in browsers, have given us instant access to information which surely must make us all more informed about the world around us?
    Which of us would want to return to an age of sifting through encyclopaedia's when the answers can be found at the touch of the screen?
    The perfect balance will be found when the resources on line, match that found in the best of reference books. Until then a balance between the traditional and new media should be encouraged.

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  • 23. At 3:32pm on 11 May 2010, Roy007 wrote:

    iGlad it is not so much we are arguing over whether he can use an iPod or the like but whether or not he lied about it simply to make a point. A point I don't agree with by the way.

    Yes today many people are more concerned about the latest dessert recipe than yet another earthquake/flood/natural disaster in some part of the world. This is not new, this has always been the case. These events did not just come into being right after instant communication was developed. They have been around far longer than our species and will likely outlast us. The thing is while people may *care* more about the cake recipe at least now they are aware of these events in real-time.

    I know many people whose only access to the internet, that prime source of information empowerment, is through devices like iPhones, Xboxes, and Wiis. A method of conveying information also conveying entertainment is still not a new idea. See books, folk lore, songs. Part of how we as species of individuals remember information is through enjoyment. An emotional memory has more triggers than simple dull memorization.

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  • 24. At 3:46pm on 11 May 2010, Andrew_F wrote:

    @fisheye_view No.14

    I think you mean the 1st Amendment*, and I think you're only reading that from the speech because you want to. What I read from the speech is that he's saying there is a deluge of "content", not all of it true, and it's up to the students of Hampton University to learn how to deal with the information without being distracted. If he argued for censoring or control of "content", that would be worrying, but arguing that people should learn to judge its worth and not be misled is less so.

    *unless the attack on guns/well-regulated state militias is too subtle for me to spot.

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  • 25. At 6:51pm on 11 May 2010, Steven Chan wrote:

    I am fully in agreement what the Mr Obama says. He obviously understand the power of information, but he is not the exception; he himself and many many others throughout human history has taken full advantage of the power of information. The advent of the Internet is fundamentally changing human life, just as the same way as when printing press, radio and TV were first introduced. The better technology can be invented and capitalized by a smart few, but its immense power is set to impact the not-as-smart billions.

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  • 26. At 8:00pm on 11 May 2010, barry white wrote:

    maybe he still believes that it is still good just to talk face to face? Old fashioned idea but you can tell so much more than just an email

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  • 27. At 08:37am on 13 May 2010, Rivu wrote:

    I think you all need to stop reading too far into it. Just take it as he said it.

    All things are good in moderation.
    Nothing wrong with a 360, so long as you're not hammering it and neglecting real life matters.

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  • 28. At 4:51pm on 13 May 2010, roadrunnertog wrote:

    Actually, whether Mr. Obama even knows what he's talking about is neither here nor there. The thing about all this information that's available is that while you can instantly get an answer to any question, it's ultimately the question asked that matters.
    Are you searching for the latest celebrity sex tape, or a scientific explanation for why different populations achieve different heights, even when different socio-economic conditions are factored in.

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