Sunday, May 9, 2010

The President drinks from the 'information overload' Kool-Aid

I was disappointed to see President Obama's remarks from the commencement exercise at Hampton University today: Obama: iPad, Xbox Turn Information Into A 'Distraction'
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 told the students. "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's right about one thing-- the increase in knowledge flows is absolutely putting pressure on our country and our democracy. He's wrong about the solution and about information becoming a distraction. Dealing with knowledge flows is an essential skill going forward. Those that learn to thrive in these new information rich environments will prosper. Those that choose to hide will be left behind.

I'm currently reading The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel and John Seely Brown. I highly recommend that the President (and his speech writers) read this book.
Push mindsets and practices are tightly grooved to a world where knowledge stocks mattered and knowledge flows were at best a peripheral event. We must accelerate a shift to a very different mindset and to practices that treat knowledge flows as the central opportunity and knowledge stocks as a useful by-product and key-enabler.
We old folks cut-our-teeth in a push world. That world is rapidly collapsing. Telling the next generation  to turn off their information appliances and to disengage from their knowledge flows is doing them a disservice.  Learning to live in the flow is the new imperative. This is the edge where value is being created. We can only hope those young people at Hampton University were busy reading their feeds on their smart phones, and that they filtered-out the President's bad advice.

Image attribution:


darnbits said...

he says it's a distraction, not that 'you should turn them off'. and he's absolutely right. ppl should try to focus on the bits of information that are actually important, and not get carried away by the bombardment of meaningless tidbits. you're disappointed because you didn't get the message right.

Kevin Gamble said...

Which tells me that he doesn't really get it. He doesn't understand how knowledge flows work. He doesn't understand how filtering works-- how our social networks help us to find what is important in all the noise.

If he got it... he would have never mentioned the devices.

ProHipHop said...

And what's wrong with information being consumed as entertainment anyway?

There's a weird elitist thing going on here, kind of like those folks who think you shouldn't find poetry entertaining or have a good time at an art gallery. It's got to be a serious engagement or it's a waste of time, sort of thing.

If anything the potential for art and media to appreciated on many levels is heightened by the web and electronic communication.

And the need for education to be, in part, about learning how to evaluate sources, rather than "don't use wikipedia", is also heightened and the failure to date is amplified.

Kevin Gamble said...

Excellent points Clyde!

Technology Expert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ProHipHop said...

Meant to say, good point about the devices. It sounds surprisingly out of touch for Obama. As if his speechwriters weren't involved.

Kevin Gamble said...

Tech Expert -- those of us who live in the flow are not affected by those sources. We never see them.

Technology Expert said...

He gets it, but most are focusing on the iPad part of the speech, and blaring that out as the primary focus. It's not.

Focus on the words "don't always rank that high on the truth meter." He's talking about the mis-information overload coming from places like Fox News and bloggers.

There's no vetting, no filtering, and most people don't bother to check Snopes for the debunking.

In terms of evaluating sources, it's the fact that most people are too lazy to do so that so much misinformation going around.

Some of it is just plain stupidity. Obama is a fascist, or a socialist. If you know that those terms really mean, you know he can't possibly be either.

They are simply thrown out because fascism = nazis (which he isn't either) and socialism = communism (which he also isn't, and neither are they the same).

Kevin Gamble said...

Tech Expert-- I'm sorry that you deleted your comment. I actually don't think that you and I are that far apart in our thinking. The fact that there is rampant misinformation is an issue. That people don't have the skills to deal with that is also a big issue. The issue is people not knowing how to properly tune their knowledge flows. That won't be helped by turning the devices off.

Kevin Gamble said...

Tech Expert -- thank you for bringing it back! :)

Nik Pasic said...

Excellent post Kevin and some great and engaging comments from everyone else. I do like how the focus here is on information sharing as opposed to the idiots over at Mac forums who take great offense that "iPod/iPad" remark ( Too bad they're higher up than this article in Techmeme. Glad to see that there are people in the States who still have an objective view on information exchange.

Kevin Gamble said...

Thank you Nik! Your comments mean a lot to me.

Unknown said...

@Technology Expert

You're correct about neither being a fascist, or a socialist. If you look at the history and especially the history behind (that which is available but not pushed) you'll find that big money and power/influence are behind both of these providing each financial means to push forward the agenda each has.

You however are wrong about the bloggers comment even if you are correct with regards to Fox News although its disengenous to single out Fox when all of the Mass Media are more agenda/spin generators then news providers these days.

To find real news with as little bias as possible you have to seek the local/small outlets tha are not mass media controlled or owned but independent operations. You also can find this in the blogosphere although you have to do so with a filter because there is so much junk as well.

BTW - Obama is a follower of Corporatocracy. In fact most mover and shakers in the world of Politics are, this is how they raise such large campaign funds. Do you really think a candidate, esecially a senator could raise a hundred million dollars if it weren't mostly for the large donations of corporations and special interest hedging their bets by buying political favor from both possible candidates so that no matter which one wins the corporation always wins?

This is not some wild conspiracy but logical business. While I disagree with Corporatocracy (which is in direct opposition to everything America was built upon) you have to give credit where its due and to these corporations, Corporatocracy makes good business sense just as obtaining a monopoly in some area does. Too bad we don’t have anti-monopoly laws for politics that would prevent duopolies like the Republican & Democrat one that rules our system of politics.

Oh well. Great take btw[Kevin] on the speech.

Darrell said...

Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst. Should be required reading in today's age of information explosion.

Unknown said...

The FCC is turning the internet into a pulic utility even though the SCUSA told them they had no autority to do so. The reason for the presidents diatribe against information overload is because he dosen't like the information you have acess to. Fox News, Freerepublic, Drudgereport, and others who have exposed him and his agenda. He's Hugo Chavez american style and the people have begun to figure it out, even the oblivious 20 somethings who are totally wired but totally self absorbed with there facebook, and twitter. The truth is a harsh mistress, and those who live by the lie "Hope and Change" have no alternative but to control access when all else fails.

Kevin Gamble said...


Thanks for the tip on the book. I went looking for it and found no epub version on B&N. I'll go find the hardcopy and give it a look. It's got to be really really really good for me to purchase paper. :)


Unknown said...

Thank you for the post Kevin! It is sad that our governemnt hasd turned to trying to contorl what information we have access to. Whether you think it is mis-information or not, it generally tends to fall down to which side of the pollitical fence you sit on. However I think minsinformation or not is irrelevent. China is well known for their government's information censorship. Does this not sound like we are heading down that path?

Unknown said...

Wow. Were you being ironic when you proved the presidents point with this misinformed post?
At no point does he tell anyone to “turn off their information appliances” but instead tells them
“… your education can prepare you… as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who's telling the truth and who's not. Let's face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I've had some experience with that myself.
Fortunately, you'll be well positioned to navigate this terrain. Your education has honed your research abilities, sharpened your analytical powers, and given you a context for understanding the world. Those skills will come in handy.”
If you had read the entire speech instead of relying on someone else’s excerpts you might have noticed that the president is saying the SAME THINGS you are.
“The fact that there is rampant misinformation is an issue. That people don't have the skills to deal with that is also a big issue. The issue is people not knowing how to properly tune their knowledge flows. That won't be helped by turning the devices off. “

So here is a link to the entire text of the speech.
Read it, be honest with yourself, and you might feel the need to revise your post.

Unknown said...

He said! And I quote ...

"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...

iPods plays music
iPad is a toy that plays the user.
Xbox is a toy that plays games?
Playstations see above!

My God! the Man's a Moron!

eMail, Web 2.0, FaceBook are his real targets! But doesn't know it. And all He does is pick words out of the Ether! and t'witters melocolicly!...

He's your Problem! Sort him out!...


Kevin Gamble said...


You make assumptions based on what?

I read the whole speech before posting.

I'm not retracting or revising anything. I think there is little about our contemporary education system that prepares students for effectively dealing with knowledge flows. Our education system is a holdover to the push environments of old.

If you know how to navigate knowledge flows then information overload is not an issue. There is zero difficulty in sifting through anything. That statement by the President alone tells me that he doesn't get it.

I'm standing by initial points.


Kevin Gamble said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Muzi said...

QMan is spot on! we don't rely on one source to get our info anymore. with google & others there's always another view point. not just one controlled point but different points. The internet has so many points its impossible to control all the points.

Great Post Kevin, well spotted.

Kevin Gamble said...

BTW, in the interest of full disclosure. I am not a President Obama basher. I contributed to his campaign, I voted for him, and I still support him. He just got some misguided advice on this one.

I've been around long enough to know and/or to expect him to understand knowledge flows. I would have hoped that his superior education would, however, given him the analytical skills to realize that his speech writers were leading him astray with misinformation. :)


Unknown said...

So "Go With the Flow" is in resurgence?

Unknown said...

Great post, and spot on!

I am very concerned that our government feels it is their place to tell us what is and is not misinformation, especially when it pertains to coverage of their own activities.

There is a reason we originally granted freedom to the press. It was to preotect them from any backlash due to negative press. This administration does not seem to agree with this policy.

Now most of the main stream media organizations are afraid to publish anything negative about the current administration, for fear of being attacked like the administration has attacked fox news.

smalltownmom said...

How ironic that a Presidential campaign that embraced a plugged-in generation has now issued a warning about the dangers of free flowing information.

Unknown said...

If the President is really worried about misinformation he should know that the country he is running is a Republic not a Democracy. He should Google it.

Newt said...

Most of you have no idea what you're talking about.
Yes misinformation is a problem, no it isn't limited to the web. Yes schools don't teach students to go fact checking, but neither do you adults so..

It sounds extreme, but you really shouldn't believe anything you hear from no-one and nothing without checking. If in Aus, watch shows like Media Watch, I'm sure America has something similar, where they go through and show errors in the media. Wikipedia has been shown to be so biased and plain wrong that it's become disallowed in schools, but it's fine to cite something from a newspaper. Still biased, still probably wrong.

Another thing you all missed is that those of us growing up now (I'm 21, younger kids do it better) are adequately equipped to deal with the knowledge overload because we grew up in it. Find a 14 year old that has trouble with facebook, then find a 40 year old that has trouble. I guarantee that if it's a fair search, no Amish kids for example, you're going to have a much easier time finding an adult who doesn't know how to deal with the amount of information, an overload in their perspective.

In regards to gaming devices, yes, information is entertainment, but I keep in touch with some of my friends by gaming with them. I can "go to the mall", which will take me several hours just to get to their place, spend an hr or so in person and then spend several hours getting back. Or, I can play a multiplayer video game. Information is entertainment is form of social communication and interaction. As a gamer, I'm more social than the people who sit down to watch a movie together.

And an iPod/any portable music player can be loaded with a podcast and become yet another point of information and entertainment. Living in this world means having the skills to combine, to spot information in data, and to not get overwhelmed. It's only a pressure on older people.

Points to Clyde for being one of the few people who made sense in comments.

The rest of you used long words to say nothing.

@Kevin Gamble
Yes, you did bash President Obama for no reason whatsoever. He said the same thing you did, you just took him out of context.

Yes, he is most likely lacking in the knowledge of how to deal with this "overload" people see the Information Age sending them. But, as richard pointed out, President Obama never said to turn the devices off, just that we needed to learn to fine tune our ears better.

Read the entire speach and rewrite your article. You're agreeing with the President, you're just making it look like you aren't.

There has been several points of high irony here. One that the President himself can't tell what's useful and what isn't. One that he's being misquoted on a blog. Another that he refers to "empowerment" and apparently empancipation then goes on to differentiate between Americans and African Americans. Amusing and pathetic, all at the same time.

Although, @Kevin Gamble, the comment "Tech Expert -- those of us who live in the flow are not affected by those sources. We never see them." is the one true and insightful thing you've said. Kudos for that.

Tim Dutcher said...

It's clear that the President does not want us to know how he intends to "fundamentally transform" our country. That transformation would come about much faster if it wasn't for Drudge, Fox News, Heritage, and other organizations who ask tough questions and propose alternate solutions.

When it comes to the future of our nation, there's no such thing as too much information.

Rashad said...

First of all this is a great debate. The likes of which I would have missed if not for being the in the flow. I think your comments regarding the need to adapt to the flow of information are all well founded. However, I don't think this was the president's main pain or even a point he was trying to make. I think there is an additional layer that I haven't heard discussed in this forum yet, and that is context. As a black male (speaking of myself) who has achieved a moderate degree of success by this world's definition, I know that every door I open for myself I am bringing people along with me. In this context he is speaking to a Historically Black College as the first Black President of the United States with the shared understanding that he too has an obligation to fulfill.

This is evidenced by his reference to the historical roots of the university, Frederick Douglas, Dorothy Hike, Birmingham, Selma, and now to the students of Hampton University. Who share the legacy of struggle and progress that is hallmark of the black experience.In this context the Presidents remarks were more a of a call to action for those who have yet to acknowledge the cultural debt they owe.

So while the President may have lacked the awareness to avoid the tech-shark infested waters, he was clear on what his message was and who he was speaking to. I don't think the President would have made this same speech at Michigan State University. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kevin.

Kevin Gamble said...

Excellent points Rashad! It's also a perspective I hadn't considered. (Which is my bad as I have worked with a lot HBCUs and should have known better.) Thank you for commenting!