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Obama Calls Today's Ubiquitous Gadgets and Information "a Distraction" 545

zaphod was one of several readers unhappy with the sentiment expressed in President Obama's graduation address to the students of Virginia's Hampton University, writing: "According to Obama, 'information becomes a distraction' when it comes to iPads, the Xbox, etc. (All items he admits not knowing how to use.) He's basically saying we are getting too much information too quickly, and from 'unreliable sources.' Of course, he's referring to talk radio, blogs and other mediums that tend to disagree with his political views." CNET has a slightly different, less critical reaction, focusing on the differences among the actual devices named; they note that the Xbox is not an iPad.
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Obama Calls Today's Ubiquitous Gadgets and Information "a Distraction"

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  • Transparency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EaglemanBSA ( 950534 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:22AM (#32153684)
    Perhaps if his administration had the transparency he promised on the campaign trail, it would be easy to get the information people are seeking from credible, reliable sources.

    Whether the President and his administration like it, this form of information sharing is very likely here to stay. Perhaps the best reaction would be to embrace it and use it as a positive differentiator from other administrations.
    • by AnEducatedNegro ( 1372687 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:31AM (#32153774)

      You're ignoring the good things President Obama has done:

              * Gitmo closed
              * Iraq War ended
              * Afghan War ended
              * Patriot Act is gone
              * Full employment
              * Deficit reduced
              * End of partisan politics
              * No lobbyists in his administration
              * Fast action on Oil Spill

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by lymond01 ( 314120 )

        (Caveat: Some are serious, some are tongue-in-cheek. You decide.)

        Gitmo Closed:
        Solution: Building a superprison for some place to put all those Gitmites.
        Desire: Give fair trials to the people captured and release those illegally detained so they can move forward and become proper terrorists.

        Iraq War ended:
        Solution: Pull out many of our troops but leave our main base there.
        Desire: Pull out completely from a stable Iraqi government with contracts in place for oil benefits to the US.

        Afghan War ended:

    • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:42AM (#32153870)

      I think that a lot of people here are missing the point. It's not that people have access to too much information (i.e., that he doesn't agree with), but that the gadgetry itself and the triviality it promotes is absorbing so much time and attention that we're ignoring other things that might be more important to our civic lives. It's gotten to the point where kids (in particular) aren't even coming up for air sometimes.

      That said, who knows where it will all lead, or whether it will be for better or worse or something in between. I'd like to think that we're strengthening democracy and public participation, but my fear is that control and manipulation may win the day...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Thanshin ( 1188877 )

        It's gotten to the point where kids (in particular) aren't even coming up for air sometimes.

        There was plenty of air in my room, I had enough with a handful of friends and those who chose to run around kicking a ball, were intellectually on level with my pet turtle. But thanks for your concern.

      • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Interesting)

        by EaglemanBSA ( 950534 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:50AM (#32153966)
        Mm, very interesting point. As an honest discussion-starting question, what are ways these new technologies could be used to promote democracy and involvement? As another post in this story says (and I totally agree), one of the biggest problems in our current form of government is a lack of involvement in and lack of importance placed on our democracy.

        The ability to spread information so quickly and so ubiquitously could definitely be a useful tool for this, methinks.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        the gadgetry itself and the triviality it promotes is absorbing so much time and attention that we're ignoring other things that might be more important to our civic lives.

        Our lives, civic or otherwise (I personally live en el campo and try to have as little to do with town as possible because I live in upper redneckistan) are made up of moments. Minutiae; minutes. What's more important than staying in touch with those we care about, or with information we care about? Not too much. You have to get work done, but being informed is a necessity if you want to work intelligently. If I spend half as much time working but get just as much done, it's hard to see it as a loss. Could

      • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <{ge.ten.atadet} {ta} {reteps}> on Monday May 10, 2010 @09:23AM (#32154290) Journal

        I agree with you that we have allowed the internet and entertainment media to distract us from our daily lives, but I believe that this is only half the problem posed by entertainment & informational technology.

        The other half of the problem, as Obama perhaps tried to allude to but didn't quite fully specify, is that when we permit ourselves to be overloaded with information, but lack the expertise to evaluate its validity and worth, we are easily manipulated by lies, half-truths, and biased points-of-view. That's why we need news and media experts to help sort, highlight, and evaluate the information that we lack the expertise to do ourselves; they help identify for us what is important.

        Think of it like Antique Road Show without the experts. Information is like the stuff that we collect in our attics. We need content experts to help us understand and recognize the value of what we possess, as well as convince us to throw away the things that aren't worth anything. Without the experts, we become informational pack rats; we possess everything, but know the value of nothing.

        And when ignoramuses start to throw around information that they don't understand, we aren't empowered; we're misled.

    • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jurily ( 900488 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:44AM (#32153886)

      it would be easy to get the information people are seeking from credible, reliable sources

      Nope. The man who has a watch always knows the time. A man who has two is never sure.

      Information won't be credible ever again, and that's a good thing: while there certainly will be propaganda from those who have the power to spread it, it'll be merely a drop in the bucket.

      • Re:Transparency (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Enry ( 630 ) <.ten.agyaw. .ta. .yrne.> on Monday May 10, 2010 @11:04AM (#32155614) Journal

        Information needs to be credible, otherwise experts are ignored and the population is left not knowing what is true.

        On the right, take Evolution, Global Warming, Fiat Currency/Fed, and the 2004 elections. On the left is Vaccines and 9/11. So much information was thrown out at once that the real facts gets buried. Those who know the 'facts' only know what they know because they never bothered to consult actual experts. 30 years ago, most of these issues were pretty much solved. Evolution wasn't questioned, everyone was vaccinated.

        The increase of people who have hours of AM radio to fill or in need of pay-per-click ads need content. Their content can either be generated by sites that occasionally strive for balance or have politically-neutral content (/. or fark at times) or just go full tilt and tell people what they think they want their audience to hear (most of AM radio and Fox).

        In the past, editors with actual credibility were the gatekeepers to make sure that the news was even or at least consistent. These days anyone that can use a spell checker (and that's not even a requirement) can suddenly be a journalist and have a soapbox that reaches around the world. While there's a lot more sources of information to choose from, we as a population aren't geared to get our information from 5-10 different sources and determine what is true (see above for examples).

        • Re:Transparency (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Jurily ( 900488 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2010 @11:29AM (#32156116)

          30 years ago, most of these issues were pretty much solved. Evolution wasn't questioned, everyone was vaccinated.

          Well, the internet is a relatively new phenomenon. Twitter-level information spreading (aka. Swine Flu Panic) is even newer. It'll take some time to develop filters, both technical, social, and intellectual.

          However, the Slashdot model does work fairly well: it's not credible because of the article itself, but because hundreds of people are discussing it. If half the comments are questioning the validity of the facts presented, you'll know there's something fishy.

          The same applies to the comments as well: by reading the discussion, you'll not only verify the information, but also learn about related things, like better alternatives, subtle pitfalls, etc. This is also why StackOverflow works out so nicely.

          Ultimately, there is no Truth, just levels of certainty, and we as a society should embrace that. Boolean logic does not apply to reality.

  • 'information becomes a distraction'

    I think it's more accurately stated that 'information can be a distraction' but, you know, it can also be a very useful tool both in learning and communicating. Everyone can have a Facebook account and everyone can read blogs but the programmer that spends much of his time reading reading blogs about programming and uses Facebook only to keep up with his friends periodically is going to outpace the programmer that spends 90% of his time on Facebook and 5% of his time reading movie reviews on blogs.

    So, by and large, it comes down to -- surprise surprise -- responsible time management. Yes, too much information via the internet and mobile devices is a double edged sword. I cannot keep up with the papers on arxiv but if I learn to manage my time and quickly recognize which papers are worth my time then it is very valuable to an academic. Or I could spend my time playing Farmville. Both occupy my time and can be distractions.

    Information is a very powerful tool, no matter how much you want to blame the method and frequency of delivery it's ultimately up to you what you do with it. I read transcript [] and honestly I thought it was closer to this dualism than the summary lets on.

    Of course, he's referring to talk radio, blogs and other mediums that tend to disagree with his political views.

    I don't think so. He actually encourages reading both sides:

    This development can be both good and bad for democracy. For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we will become more polarized and set in our ways. And that will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country. But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.

    For once the Slashdot summary seemed to be even more politically charged and biased than the actual politician. The correct message is to manage your time well and exercise caution. Sound advice actually.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      For once the Slashdot summary seemed to be even more politically charged and biased than the actual politician. The correct message is to manage your time well and exercise caution. Sound advice actually.

      I'm confused now - is slashdot part of the leftwing mainstream media conspiracy? Or is it part of the right wing independent news sources conspiracy (which are too small to be called mainstream, yet command a huge listening audience)??

    • by FriendlyPrimate ( 461389 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @09:46AM (#32154550)
      This was exactly how it came across to me too.

      Seeing so many knee-jerk Obama-is-a-facist right-wing reactions ON SLASHDOT of all places, and all modded to 5 Insightful, is downright scary. Has Fox News won the information war?
      • Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BitHive ( 578094 )

        You're surprised by this now? You haven't noticed all the Ron Paulogists and linux libertarians that swarm on every political story? (and some science now too, see climate change)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by brkello ( 642429 )

        Slashdot has always been more conservative. Libertarian to be accurate, but they align more with conservatives principles. Of course, Republicans don't align with conservative principles anymore so everyone is a bit confused. But yeah, I think you will see more Glenn Beck fans here than you will Kieth Olbermann.

  • by MaggieL ( 10193 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:22AM (#32153694)

    Apparently he didn't consider Xbox a distraction when he was running in-game campaign ads on it.

    That was then, this is now. After all, you can't trust media to be "accurate" if it isn't state controlled, like in China. Now. Before, you couldn't trust the media *because* it was state-controlled. Like HuffPo. Oh, wait...

  • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:24AM (#32153704)

    He meant that as information becomes decentralized, the government cannot control its distribution. The Users become the Producers and Creators, and also their own Network. Dissent can become viral, and that buffoon Robert Gibbs can barely stamp out a cockroach let alone an Internet meme. The best education also entertains, and the most effective dissent begins with satire.

    "It's OK to enjoy your Bread and Circuses, Americans," Obama concluded his speech. "Just be sure that they are government issue. Thank You and Good Night."

    • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:44AM (#32153880) Homepage Journal

      the Truth becomes a distraction.

      No longer can government officials just hide behind friends in the press (print/broadcast). Very much how blogs turned up the heat on big media in 2004 it was a signal that many in government failed to see, that is, we the people can watch you, we can report on you, and we will.

      Hence the little "trial balloons" floated about going after blogs and their commercial associations (reviewing products, people, etc). Anything to get some leverage on the new free voice. Can't wait for the changes to election laws going after blogs.

      Nah, the blogs are grassroots and grassroots are the one thing DC is having a problem with. Trying to counter with their SEIU fake gatherings to offset Tea Partiers got exposed by blogs, not the news media. Face it DC, you can lie through the press but the press won't be our main source going forward.

      It also works well for the leaders of other countries, namely Iran. Technology may for the short time give the regular person the upper hand until it can regulated into oblivion

  • by Telecommando ( 513768 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:24AM (#32153708)

    I was intending to watch it but then I got a tweet from my bff and had to update my Facebook page and status on Foursquare.

  • +5 Insightful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:26AM (#32153728)
    "What Jefferson recognized... that in the long run, their improbable experiment -- called America -- wouldn't work if its citizens were uninformed, if its citizens were apathetic, if its citizens checked out, and left democracy to those who didn't have the best interests of all the people at heart."

    Right on, and that is precisely the problem we have right now: most of the citizens do not care. People are not just unaware of the issues facing America and what their government is doing; they seem not to care about any of it at all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EaglemanBSA ( 950534 )
      Personally, I think most of our population fails to recognize the magnitude of importance our right to vote and our basic form of government play into the rights and infrastructure we enjoy. We have indeed checked out, and we'll soon pay the price for it. Democracy's (even a democratic republic's, mind you) proper function hinges on the involvement of the people as a majority. That doesn't happen in the United States anymore.
    • Re:+5 Insightful (Score:5, Insightful)

      by epiphani ( 254981 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:50AM (#32153964)

      Right on, and that is precisely the problem we have right now: most of the citizens do not care. People are not just unaware of the issues facing America and what their government is doing; they seem not to care about any of it at all.

      From my perspective as an outsider who does catch a fair bit of America-centric media, the problem the US is having isn't that its citizenry doesn't care. It's that there are several extremely loud contingents of the population that are misinformed, not uninformed.

      And those groups are also being used by embedded interests.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ebuck ( 585470 )

        +20 Insightful.

        Imagine coming back from Iraq, telling the citizenry about your personal experiences, and then being told by them that you're dead wrong. That's how uninformed our citizens are. Their reality resembles the ads on the back of the cereal boxes more than it resembles anything else. The only problem is that we fail to recognize that news is now a commodity, bought, sold, and marketed by people trying to make the highest profit. Only profitable news sells, and even then it gets crowded out by

  • by SirLoadALot ( 991302 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:27AM (#32153730)

    It's always "aliens have invaded", or "nuke goes off in major city", or "Duke Nukem is still not available"...

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:27AM (#32153736)

    Bill Gates talked about Information Fatigue years ago when Microsoft was trying to bring together disparate information systems with their backend server tools.

    Here's an article from 2006 []

    The idea was that it wasn't too much information coming in that was the problem. Rather it was too much pure data and "dumb" information being presented to users. This led to users getting too wrapped up in filtering this information themselves and spending too little time with the data that they truly needed.

    Pascal once wrote "The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter." Cutting through the vast amount of unnecessary data to get to important intelligence is time consuming. Obama is right, but he's also a decade late.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:28AM (#32153752)

    Hey, for once I agree with St. Obama. I realize that geeks are never going to admit it, but there is a price for our geekery. How many of us are distracted, and have short attention spans. Let's take a moment to think about...

    Hey look... an ipad....


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      C'mon... how many replies will this thread get from posters supposedly working at the office/wherever?

  • by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:35AM (#32153806) Homepage Journal

    Obama wasn't calling out particular devices. 5 years ago it would gave been "laptops on wifi, iPods, MP3 players, Cellphones with net connections, Playstation and Nintendo mobile" Yes both iPods and mp3 players :) adds that presidential touch.

    In any case he's warning an at risk group of university students to focus on their education rather than being distracted by always on media and Media.

    These speeches aren't always 100% addressing the greatr society. Sometimes they specifically address the physical audience.

  • by spookymonster ( 238226 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:39AM (#32153838)

    This was a graduation address, not a state of the union speech. He's not laying down policy here. He's speaking to a very specific audience (graduating students) about a very specific topic (transitioning from school to the workforce). This was not the preamble to new legislation, nor should it be misconstrued as such.

    IMHO, Eisenhower's Council on Youth Fitness was a far more intrusive condemnation of how we spent our leisure time than this.

  • by Capt James McCarthy ( 860294 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:41AM (#32153856) Journal

    I gotta run and get my popcorn for the 'discussions' on this topic. Let the political ego nukes fly!

  • by ReneeJade ( 1649107 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:45AM (#32153894)
    I know that most governments are corrupt and all that, but did Obama really say anything wrong this time? He was addressing a group of students when he said that information overload and quickly accessible information can be distracting. You know what? He's right. I'm a student. I find video games, TV shows, Slashdot, overclocking forums, Linux forums, email, telephone, new software, Facebook notifications, to be hugely distracting. I would go so far as to say that I am mildly addicted to new, bite-sized pieces of information. It doesn't help that I already have ADHD - but the Internet and other computer-based media go a long way in keeping me off-track.
  • by NoSleepDemon ( 1521253 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:47AM (#32153906)
    ...Wow, did half of the posters here even read the article? Obama's not pro-censorship, he's not arguing that x-box's, twitter and facebook should be taken away:

    "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,"
    "some of the craziest claims can quickly claim traction," in the clamor of certain blogs and talk radio outlets.

    What Obama is saying, is that in this day and age of massive media coverage you shouldn't always believe what you read. He's encouraging the students to find alternate sources of information, to actually investigate something before spouting off and further propagating the Chinese Whisper... You know, basically what most of the people replying to this article did.
  • The transcript (Score:5, Informative)

    by medcalf ( 68293 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:49AM (#32153944) Homepage

    is here [], and here is the paragraph that people are taking issue with:

    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.

    What I find interesting is not the assertion about the devices, and information becoming entertainment — that's been true since at least the beginnings of edutainment and of news as entertainment almost twenty years ago. For me, the interesting part is the first sentence: "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." It seems to me that throughout history, the times when truth has been the major component of the information we are given have been few and far between. For example, the news media in the US, despite their pretensions to objectivity, haven't been particularly honest at any time in their history. Even in WWII, the war correspondents left out more than they said, and that was probably the height of objectivity in the news. Heck, the news media was in great part responsible for fomenting the Spanish-American War (google "yellow journalism"), reported the propaganda of Saddam Hussein as news in order to maintain access, and spent years trying to talk us into a recession (note the tone of economic reporting under Bush vs. that under Obama, and compare that to the actual statistics).

    In other words, the real requirement we have is not to shut off the flows of information, or even to tilt at the windmill of trying to ensure that all the information we have access to is truthful, but to armor ourselves with scepticism, basic statistical knowledge, and deep historical knowledge so that we, individually, can sort out the truth from the lies, distortions and agenda-driven propaganda we are faced with.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @08:50AM (#32153958)

    I agree with him on this one. Sort of...

    We are getting distracted by disinformation from bloggers who crave web hits over actual journalism. We also don't place enough value on actual journalists (you know the trained professions) who go out in the field and research the report, and their editors who fact check the story (*cough*) before it is placed on the web or in print.

    We live in an echo chamber. Where if it's linked by three bloggers then it must be true. Where if it's similar to what you wish were true then it must be true.

    My only beef is that he didn't mind the unsubstantiated "information" that benefited his position and allowed him to win an election with nothing more than a "Yes We Can" slogan.

    Live by the tweets and blogs, die by the tweets and blogs...

    I think it would be more accurate to say that we are distracted by technology (games, tweets, etc.) instead of actually trying to learn something... Really, how many teenagers are actually using technology to learn something beneficial? Really?

  • and other mediums that tend to disagree with his political views"

    in obama's defense, calling talk radio and blogs as "mediums that tend to disagree with his political views" is like describing the ebola virus as "organic matter that tends to disagree with your right to live"

    talk radio and political blogs are seething venomous pits of propaganda, whether from right or left, and are not valid sources of anything. nevermind the laughable idea they offer polite respectable disagreement to your political views. is a ranting lobotomized alzheimer's patient infected with rabies a "disagreement with your political views"?

    mindless partisan hate (left OR right), which is all talk radio or political blogs are, is are completely useless. echo chambers for people who have turned off their minds. completely unthinking, loud, tired, endlessly rehashed pointless drivel. talk radio and political blogs are septic systems of the mind, and are not valid reactions to anything anyone says or does, whether right or left. the less talk radio you listen to and political blogs you read, indeed, the clearer your mind. reading a blatantly left wing or right wing blog probably instantly (temporarily) lowers your iq

    in such a respect obama is 100% correct. if gw bush said the same thing, he would be correct to. because it doesn't matter the source of the observation, because the observation is not an attack on the right or the left. if osama bin laden told you it is important to wash your hands after using the toilet, does the source of that observation make the statement immediately suspect? no: its important to wash your hands after leaving the toilet, even osama bin laden recognizes this. therefore, it is equally true what obama says about talk radio and political blogs, whether said by him or sarah palin about left wing blogs. left OR right wing: talk radio and political blogs are poison to the mind

    so obama's observation is completely valid. talk radio and political blogs are not coherent sources of impartial information. talk radio and political blogs are mental filth and they destroy civil society by turning it into a race to the bottom of mindless attacks and smears

  • Information bubble (Score:5, Interesting)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @09:23AM (#32154292) Journal

    The other problem I am becoming more concerned about is people building bubbles of information and opion which does not include outside POVs.

    What I mean is that people read blogs, watch TV shows etc., which only serve to reinforce their current world view. Whether that be to the left or right in the political spectrum. Or opinions on scientific research, or religious groups.

    Recently I went to a precinct meeting of my $PoliticalPartyofMyChoice. I then volunteered to serve as a delegate to the county caucus. In this situation I was forced meet with, in real life, people I did not agree with. Even in the same political party there can a wide variety of points of view, biases, misinformation, lack of good information, undiscussed issues of concern to you etc. Speaking to people face to face without the shroud of the internet forced me to think about things and review some of my biases and positions. I had argue (in the classical sense of the word, as in "to debate") some of my points and allow myself to be educated.

    It was actually was a good experience due to that. I would recommend it. Put down the iPad and XBox, get out of the house, and get involved face-to-face.

  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @09:31AM (#32154402)

    Maybe he's talking about Information Overload which is indeed a problem.

    Think about those managers that are completelly Blackberry driven (those that almost always give the highest priority to their BB, even in meetings) and now consider the quality of their decision making: for people that get so many e-mails and are so on top of things, they usually are surprisingly uninformed and unthinking in their decisions.

    Maybe Obama's statements should be read as:
    - President of the USA says that nowadays people have too many things pulling their attention and receive too much low-value information
    and that has negative consequences with regards to their knowledge and wisdom.

    instead of:
    - Well know Democrat politician tells people what they're doing wrong.

    You know, even though he's the lider of a political party in a highly politically polarised nation, he's still the fucking president of the US of A and he didn't got there by being stupid. Maybe he's capable of an informed opinion ...

    It pisses me off to no end that me, an European, have to be then one pointing out the he's a man that has succeeded in getting elected to a highly coveted position, which few can achieve and that maybe his non-political opinions, at least once in a while, should be heard instead of dismissed outright because of his political affiliation

  • It's true. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tick-tock-atona ( 1145909 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @09:41AM (#32154498)
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday May 10, 2010 @09:48AM (#32154592)

    This is weird coming from a gadget freak, but people really are bomarded by way too much information at once. I can think of a lot of examples:

    • Probably the root of Obama's complaint - the news cycle is constant, 24/7 and jumps on the tiniest thing like piranha. It's hard to formulate a response to something big like the Gulf oil spill when you have news networks breathing down your neck listening for every syllable coming out of your mouth, then bringing in a ton of "experts" to pick apart everything you say. On one hand, it's very good to have a responsive media that can investigate things and bring them to light. It's a very bad thing to have them going 24 hours a day and pumping up ratings/readership by bringing the screaming heads into it. It's also really bad that traditional journalism is being replaced with thousands of random bloggers, all with their own agendas. Random bloggers have no obligation to report the facts, and don't really have the backing needed to do real investigative journalism. The latest iPhone prototype is very different from a local government's kickback scandal that costs taxpayers millions of wasted dollars.
    • A lot of the current financial turmoil and volatility is caused by instant access to the stock market by everyone. Almost everyone in the US is connected to the market at least through their 401(k). Now, the iPhone and other handhelds let them react instantly to the tiniest shred of news. Your company swung to a loss after 40 profitable quarters? SellSellSell, fire the CEO and get someone else in. Company just laid off 5,000 workers and sent their jobs overseas? BuyBuyBuy, that company's on a roll. This is a big problem for people who count on the market for retirement. It's also a huge problem for public companies, who can no longer make long term investments and are forced to make rash decisions in the name of share price. There was a time where the stock market was only accessible to companies and the insanely wealthy, and that's how they funded business ventures. Now anyone can buy stocks cheaply, and it's adding a large amount of volatility to the mix. I see that as a huge problem, and an advantage that a traditional pension plan had. Investment firms running pensions have to be realtively conservative to balance potential losses, plus they have years and years to fix any mistakes. One financial crisis can wipe out your savings, and the new "personal responsibility" mantra says you deserve to retire broke.
    • I also think that people are much more distracted today. The constant influx of information means that most people don't have as long an attention span as they used to, and i don't think it's just a generational thing. As a result, it's really hard to get someone to sit and actually think about an issue. This is probably a big part of Obama's argument too. I'm sure he's more concerned about keeping a Congressional majority, but the idea that people are more influenced by sound bites than actual thought on an issue is kind of scary. Think about it, during the healthcare reform debate, it was veyr hard to hear stories of how people get dropped by their insurance companies when they get sick, or how Medicare is going to be wiped out if we don't put some limits on the cost of healthcare. It was all drowned out by "death panels", "unmanageable deficits" and "government takeover" talking points.

    I'm not some Luddite who thinks we need to go back in time - we just need to learn as a society when to turn down the huge amount of noise coming in. Some noise is good, but when it means you can't sit still for 20 seconds, something has gotten out of whack.

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.