Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You mean the President isn't a gamer?!

Hampton University had the honor of having President Obama deliver the commencement address to those in attendance. Unless you’re living in Canada, you’ve no doubt heard some of the controversial remarks he made about information, technology and democracy. Here is the relevant portion of these remarks:

“And meanwhile, 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 -- (laughter) -- 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.”

Most of what I’ve caught the news media discussing is how the President is somewhat “dissing” technology and video games. While this is somewhat true, I personally believe a president ought to have some leeway in poking fun at certain genres – in this case, technologies – without getting beat up about it.

What is upsetting about the President’s words, however, have nothing to do with the President’s inability to use an ipad or xbox360. Ironically enough, while mentioning kinds of informational distractions, he uses distractions himself by joking about his lack of having and using various technologies and games. I believe that the President’s point had very little to do about technology, and everything to do with information being harmful for democracy.

We are living in the “Information Age,” and as Barack Obama rightly pointed out, we have a wealth of information available to us. In fact, we have more information available than any civilization in the history of mankind. The President specifically mentions that there are bad arguments out there. I happen to agree with him. But this begs the question: why bother to mention this? If we continue reading his comments we’ll discover his purpose when he said, “information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

I’m sorry, what?! So then, knowledge isn’t power?

To those who have defended the President by arguing that his only intention was to say that video games and entertainment media are unhelpful, I would simply ask how this makes sense considering the speech in its entirety? He spends a great deal of time talking about democracy, and even does so here. He goes so far as to mention bad arguments that don’t rank high in truthfulness.

This leads me to my next question: is the President implying that certain forms of information are dangerous to democracy? If so, what should be done about it?

Do I even need to mention the first amendment and the right to free speech for citizens? This means that even when there are arguments and beliefs I disagree with, people should have the right to express their perspectives. Period. Even if they are bad arguments that don’t rank high on the truth meter. How can this be bad for Democracy? I would submit to you that it is beneficial and necessary for Democracy. Let every perspective be expressed and let the people decide for themselves.

My fear in hearing Obama’s speech is the undertone that bad arguments and untruthful arguments are an enemy of empowerment, emancipation and democracy. Is he implying that government has the responsibility to ensure only good arguments are delivered to the public? I sincerely hope not.

Had Benjamin Franklin attended the commencement ceremony he would not have been pleased by Obama’s thoughts about more information being bad for democracy. It was Franklin who published one of the more popular newspapers in the colonies and experienced first-hand the underhanded back-biting that took place in nearly every paper (he even contributed on more than one occasion). Were Obama to be consistent, he would have to condemn the bad arguments and untruths taking place at the time of the Revolution so that democracy would be benefited. Ironically, it was the expression of many opinions and beliefs – even bad arguments and untrue statements – that contributed to our own political process, and not an attempt to convince the public that only certain kinds of information are helpful to emancipation.

On a side-note, G4TV’s take on this issue has been hilarious. Gamers are all up in arms now. Better not diss technology if you wanna have the l33test fans ftw, Mr. President =).

Thanks for reading,

No comments:

Post a Comment