Pro-BlackBerry Obama: iPads, iPods Are 'Distraction'

President: Some gadgets make information entertainment, not empowerment tool.

May 10, 2010, 11:20 AM

May 10, 2010— -- When the BlackBerry-toting President Obama took office last year, technophiles around the country hailed him as the first "geek-in-chief."

But this morning the president awoke to the harsh reality that his blogosphere base can be just as fickle as the voters, with some in the tech community calling the president a "hater" for comments he made Sunday labeling some technology a "distraction."

With his reliance on social media, his commitment to appointing a chief technology officer and, of course, his refusal to give-up his BlackBerry, Obama quickly won big points among the nation's tech elite.

That reputation as the tech-friendly commander-in-chief took a hit over the weekend when Obama talked to a group of graduating college seniors at Virginia's Hampton University about the drawbacks of living in a gadget-giddy world.

"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," he said during Hampton's commencement ceremony. "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," he said.

The president's comments caused a bit of a blogosphere brouhaha, with headlines drawing attention to the "hater in chief" and criticizing the president for drinking from the "'information overload' Kool-Aid."

"Having used social networking so heavily in this election campaign, it seems strange that he has turned his back on it so quickly," Stuart Miles, owner and editor of tech blog Pocket-Lint, told "Technology has, if you don't filter it, the capabilities to overload you very quickly, but it doesn't always have to be that way."

Obama Urges Digital Citizens to Refrain From Trivial

In a blog post on Obama's comments, Pocket-Lint writer Paul Lamkin pointed out that Obama said in his speech that the world was at a moment of "breathtaking change" in which people must adapt. But he said that Obama and his team have shown that they have effectively figured out how to adapt to these changes.

The White House is renowned for its presence on Facebook, Twitter and in Apple's App Store. And Lamkin noted that during the 2008 election, Obama's team placed ads inside Xbox 360 games, one of the gadgets the president singled out in the recent Hampton speech.

Miles said the Blackberry itself could also be seen as a way to manage the ongoing rush of bit and bytes.

"Accessing filtered information on your BlackBerry is part of dealing with the ebb and flow of information," he said.

Dan Tynan, a technology journalist and co-author of the technology humor site eSarcasm, said that in some ways it was comforting to know that Obama isn't holed away in the Oval Office glued to video games.

"I'm happy to know that Obama isn't sitting in the dungeon and playing "Call of Duty" or "Grand Theft Auto," he said, adding that eventually we'll likely elect a president raised on video games.

And, Tynan emphasized, that in focusing on Obama's apparent criticism of a few gadgets, much of the media missed the larger message.

In the commencement speech, he said, Obama addressed the notion that media makes it very easy to get caught up in the trivial but, "education is the antidote to triviality."

"The Internet is very, very broad and shallow. It's all surface. He's urging this first generation of digital natives to graduate from college to look below the surface," he said. "And that's right."

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