Over the weekend President Obama gave a graduation speech at Hampton University that has caused somewhat of an uproar. He stated:
"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 — 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."I'm sure he has taken a bit of heat for saying that he doesn't know how to work those particular devices, but that's really not his point. I think in general the President is pointing to the fact that we have all these distractions that keep us from engaging in the important and necessary things in life. Certainly an amount of distraction is needed. But where would the free speech movement have been if Mario Savio had blogged his speeches rather than standing on steps of Sproul Hall? (And yes, I realize the irony of this post in regards to that comment.)
The 24/7 media, then, has become more of a distraction rather than a means of education about issues of the day. Even Donna Brazile, my favorite pundit and girl crush, recently wrote that the media should get rid of pundits in favor of hearing and learning from experts in the field. For instance, how does an ER doctor really feel about health care reform, how about a nurse? What can we learn about the subject from people who study the economics of health care? Wouldn't this information be more meaningful that listening to Sarah Palin talk about the so-called death panels?
I am not simply a curious bystander in this conversation. I love the distraction of television and the internet. But I also take time to educate myself on issues. I've been thinking a lot about those unnecessary distractions. I've started to avoid getting sucked into new things that have little value other than entertainment. Sure, if something really great comes along, I'll give it a try, but the only way I will stick with it is if it replaces something that I currently use.
And this is why I recently decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I found myself rarely using it, and when I did it wasn't for any particularly useful purpose. And, quite honestly, the people who I really love and care about, the people who mean the most in my life, are people that I can email or call to catch up with. I don't need Facebook to help me maintain relationships. Is it fun and interesting? Sure. Is it a good way to catch up with people from the past? Definitely. Did I join the Betty White on SNL page? Yes, and were I still on Facebook I would do it again. But ultimately, what purpose did it serve me? A form of entertainment that rarely, if ever, enlightened or empowered.