Caught this over at Ace of Spades who sarcastically calls this evidence of President Obama being an “intellectual”:
“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,” Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia.
“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,” Obama said.
He bemoaned the fact that “some of the craziest claims can quickly claim traction,” in the clamor of certain blogs and talk radio outlets.
“All of this is not only putting new pressures on you, it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.”
While I appreciate Ace’s sentiment, and think he is mostly correct in his assessment of Obama’s statement, I have to disagree with his conclusion that a fear of people’s access to information is not congruent with intellectuals, at least historically speaking. Intellectuals, and the establishment that they tend to be the minions of, have long believed themselves to be the vanguard and gate-keepers of information, and have always feared people gaining too much access to it.
One need only look at the invention of movable type and the printing press to realize intellectuals fear the democratization of information. While Johannes Gutenberg wanted to print books that would teach people how to read latin, the intellectuals at the time, the Roman Catholic Clergy, would only approve of his printing of the Bible. The fear was that if people were allowed access to too much information, they could be persuaded of all sorts of crazy ideas. In the end, the intellectuals were right; once liberated, the printing press eventually gave birth to the reformation, the scientific revolution, and all sorts of crazy ideas that greatly compromised their power.
We’re seeing a similar information revolution going on today. Some might think that it’s hyperbole to compare the rise of new media, including the internet, to the invention of the printing press, but frankly I believe that comparing it to the printing press doesn’t do the current media revolution enough justice. But Obama’s reaction to it is typical, as the power structure in Washington has been the greatest victim of the new media, as the increase in access to information has led to DC getting a level of scrutiny that they have never before seen, much to his chagrin, and to the detriment of his poll numbers.