obama-ipad In his commencement address at Hampton University, a historically black college founded in 1861 to teach escaped slaves, President Obama had some harsh words about the iPad, as well as iPods and video game consoles:

"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."

I would respectfully suggest that if Obama doesn’t even know how to work them, he might not be in the best position to judge how “distracting” they would necessarily be. Some colleges are issuing iPads to their students to use in lieu of paper textbooks. Would they do that if they felt they would be detrimental to the students’ education?

On the other hand, given how attached he was to his Blackberry, maybe he’s speaking from personal experience in that regard.

If I were Apple, I’d very publicly send Obama an iPad “so he could learn how to work it.”


  1. The sum total of Obama’s technical expertise is: he knows how to use a Blackberry that *someone else* configures for him. Sending him an iPad would be a waste of perefectly good silicon.

    Look not to him for any kind of valid insight on *any* scientific or technological subject. His record on, and attitudes towards, NASA is all an informed person needs to judge his self-assured technological illiteracy.

    Further detail and elaboration, while abundant, is essentially off-topic for this site, no?

  2. This is truly depressing, Chris, but it certainly jibes with the disgraceful record the White House has in the e-book area. President Obama’s people never even gave me the courtesy of the reply when I contacted the White House about a well-stocked national digital library system in the TeleRead vein. Obama needs to stop making his Luddite-style statements and instead encourage educators to plan ahead more comprehensively for information literacy–a component of TeleRead. Getting the books and other content online is not enough; schools need to inculcate in students the habit of using the collection effectively. A well-integrated TeleRead approach, including appropriate training for teachers and librarians, would help make this possible.

    Needless to say, you’re entirely right in suggesting that Obama try out an iPad. He really needs to experience the technology firsthand before he can make decisions. If nothing else he should understand that the iPad is far more than a consumption device alone. I’m creating this very post with Dragon Dictation (with the virtual keyboard used for polishing and fixing).

    Meanwhile, shame on Obama for ignoring well-informed opinion from the grassroots. Is it any mystery why people are still skeptical about government — no matter which party is in power and no matter how much communications technology improves? I’m certain that many exceptions exist, but the rule seems to be that Obama and his crew will be deaf to you unless you are one of the standard Washington insiders, have another kind of personal connection, are with an approved think tank, are a major campaign contributor, or work for one.

    Given the miserable alternatives, I suppose I’ll most likely vote for Obama again, but I won’t be entirely happy about his track record. Many other tech-friendly people will restrain their enthusiasm if he continues to show the same cluelessness he does about iPad-style technology.


    To Felix: I agree on the need to stay on topic, but as shown above, this is not entirely outside the realm of e-books. What’s more, with a proper demonstration, Obama can probably “get” the iPad and e-books.

  3. I think what Obama is focusing is that kids of america read more and not inundated with entertainment 24/7. But on the other hand he needs to realize that information on the internet can be a good thing but unfortunately using the iPod touch, and the iPad is not the full internet like you would have it on a regular computer. Don’t even try arguing with that. You are full of it if you are.. Now as far as using the devices it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to use it. I’m sure Obama would know quickly. I don’t think he’s one of those computer illiterates like the older generation are.

  4. David, the facts I would need to allude to, to make the point that Obama would *not* even bother to look at an iPad, fall into realms beyond ebooks so let’s just say the man, like most luddites, it too sure of his position to “waste” time learning his preconceived notions need updating. No demonstration can change a mind too small, and ego too big, to admit the possibiity of fallibility.

    His track record shows his tactics change, his goals don’t. He is nothing if not consistent.

  5. I use my iPad the same way I use my laptop at night: for information consumption only. I think that people who have never given it a shot may focus on the games and social networking apps that everyone seems to be talking about and not realize the actual potential of these devices, quite frankly because surfing and reading does not get the same media coverage as the newest entertainment app.
    I know tons of people who laugh about ebooks yet have never read anything besides PDFs on a computer screen. They say they prefer pbooks, but how in the world is this preference well founded?

  6. Apple should instead send iPad to Obama’s daughters, filled with few textbooks, encyclopedias, etc.

    I am surprised that he would group the iPad with Playstation. To me iPad promise is more as information appliance, not so much entertainment.

    I love iPad’s form factor and that you can actually skip pages on ebook without wait. This is really needed for reference manuals, textbooks, etc.

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