At a recent speech at Hampton University, President Obama had this to say about our web 2.0 information age:
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.
There is simply no worse argument for or against something then the fact you’ve never used the thing.
And although I agree with him, without trying something yourself, it’s silly to have confidence in your ability to discern its value. I criticize twitter, but I use it just the same to see if maybe I’m wrong.
For decades we bet that the information age would come and solve all our problems. The information age is here, and it has solved some problems, but:
- There are some problems information does not solve
- There are some problems created by our easy access to information
I can’t blame an appliance if I choose not to put it down. But the simple fact is just as America is physically obese because of bad eating habits (34% of Americans are obese), we are mentally overloaded because of bad information habits. I can’t blame Apple, anymore than I can blame McDonalds. They are corporations and their prime directive is to sell. The problem is us, not the devices.
I’ve written about this before in Attention and Sex and more recently, in the cult of busy, where I point to our misguided cultural value around busy people, as the cause. The web, the iPad or whatever is next is just another way for us to manifest that (misguided) value. It’s no longer hard to seem busy, it’s incredibly easy and signifies nothing.
Dan Lyons at Newsweek had this to add:
Remember when computers were supposed to save us time? Now it seems just the opposite. The Internet just keeps giving us more ways to do nothing.
We have more information than ever before. We’re never away from it. The air around us fairly hums with it. Computers are all around us too—they’re on our desks, in our pockets, on our coffee tables.
And yet I can’t shake the sense that we are all becoming stupider and stupider—and that we are, on average, less well informed today than we were a generation ago.
Information is cheap. Entertainment is cheap. Social interaction online is cheap. It begs the question: what is not cheap? What does not change in the face of new media? If the problem of information access has been solved, which it largely has, what are the real problems we need to solve? Whatever they are, they’re the real things that matter – it’s just harder and harder to get down to the core, given how awash we are in irrelevance.