It’s a rarity in American politics that a president would encourage citizens to disengage from technological innovations that can further their involvement in the policy process. But that’s just what our president seems to have done.
In a commencement speech on May 9, 2010, at Hampton University, in Virginia, President Obama told departing seniors, “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 all that high on the truth meter.”
While many would agree there’s questionable information littered throughout the Internet, it would seem access to more information is better for citizen participation than less. Although he didn’t suggest it, Americans certainly wouldn’t want their news limited and channeled through a single bureau in Washington, D.C.
“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 a means of emancipation,” President Obama added.
Never mind the hypocrisy of the so-called mainstream media, which would have likely lambasted a Republican president, had he or she admitted not knowing how to use this type of technology. Remember when President George H.W. Bush was ridiculed in the early 1990s for not being familiar with the then relatively new grocery scanner technology?
What do President Obama’s comments suggest for future transparency? Then-Senator Obama – or at least his campaign team – found the value of modern technology in 2008. The Obama campaign harnessed the power of the latest innovations, including an official iPhone Application that claimed to give “you the tools you need to make an impact and stay in the know.” Furthermore, information about the application said, “You’ll have instant access to Barack’s positions on important issues.”
While not advocating for its purchase, the iPad (and other products) appears to allow consumers entrée to a virtual “marketplace of ideas,” including access to e-mail, social media, news sites and journals, electronic books, and a choice of tailored applications. It’ll be interesting to see if the Obama campaign creates an iPad Application, as they did for the iPhone, going into 2012.
These technologies are “putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy,” President Obama added. Other than the fact that the United States is a constitutional republic, not a democracy, on this point, he’s absolutely right. Transparency and transformational communication tools are very inconvenient to those wielding power.
Perhaps this is why President Obama is now concerned about their use. As more Americans are awakened by his unpopular policies, they are combining modern technology with traditional techniques to make their voices heard at all levels of government.