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What Did He Say?
In the world of brand name products that define social media for the masses, the slightest afront to a popular product can be a declaration of commercial war. The University of Hampton became the setting for President Barack Obama's now infamous attack on Apple, Microsoft, and the other proponents of the "24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content." It is here that Obama says the iPad is bad for Americans, directly connecting it with the media overload that is part and parcel for social networking and a culture that remains permanently plugged in. Obama's rather zealous claim that the iPad is bad for Americans comes from a reaction to the change in media consumption that has marked recent years and, though the direction was misplaced, it did come from a legitimate concern.
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As Obama is roundly quoted now, he said "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."
The comment is part of a more generalized commencement address where he attempts to outline the challenges faced by young people today. It will not come as any surprise that it tended to take this tone as this reflects a common set of concerns around the new media environment we find ourselves in. Social networking has forced a very structured and dictated sense of identity on users, one that makes constant demans to remain involved.
This criticism is not one that puts him on the fringes of the technological community, but the simple mention of the iPad has sent many bloggers to plaster "Obama says the iPad is bad for Americans." Though we know that this remains out of context when the quote is looked to as a whole, it does miss the way that the iPad and associated smart mobile devices can contribute to the social whole.
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The reality is that the iPad does facilitate this type of media influx, but it also ushers in a complete period of "pull" media for users. This means that users have the ability to access media at will, and in a full form since the iPad's structure is one with a complete display screen. Newspapers, blogs, government records, and a variety of other types of media platforms are available almost instantly in a way that people had almost no concept of even ten years ago. This forces the possibility of the democratization of this type of communication, allowing the smallest journalist the same avenues to the audience as the major conglomerates.
What Obama really failed to acknowledge is the way these devices, though not necessarily the iPad specifically, have been used as a "means of emancipation." Whether it was the "green revolution" revolts in Iran or the rising discontent in Eygpt and Tunisia, social media and smart devices have been the central force for organizing and communicating. The political motivation behind these events is debatable, but technology helped empowered those who otherwise would have had trouble finding a way around the established leadership.
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Obama received much of his hyped charm from the hypermedia machine that he has recently attacked. The iPad is just coming into its own, and as we await the release of the iPad 2 we will find that there are going to be more uses popping up than we ever had thought of before. Perhaps we will find him checking his email on one from the back of the oval office. That is, if he learns how it works first.