Obama Says Our Gadgets Are Distracting Us

Is this blog post distracting? President Obama might say so.

On Sunday, Obama warned soon-to-be graduates at the historically black Hampton University that information on iPods, iPads, Xboxes and PlayStations "becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation." Some technophiles are up in arms, but a forthcoming book could tip the scales of the debate in the President's favor.

Bloggers, not surprisingly, as well as other commenters took issue with Obama's criticism. Since the jury's still out on the usefulness of some devices, maybe Obama should "tout the iPad's potential at schools rather than slamming it as just another attention-deficit device," argues CNet's Brooke Crothers. The President sounded out of touch, writes Geekosystem's Glynnis MacNicol, especially to a generation of young people who have grown up separating the information wheat from the chaff.

But technology writer Nicholas Carr argues in a new book that everyone would do well to heed Obama's advice. "The Shallows" is based on the cover story Carr wrote for The Atlantic in 2008, titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in which he argued that an instant access to information affects our "capacity for concentration and contemplation." According to Salon's Laura Miller, "The Shallows" gains "empirical heft" from new research on the effects of multitasking, hyperlinks and multimedia:

The results are not cheering, and the two chapters in which Carr details them are, to my mind, the book's payload. This evidence -- that even the microseconds of decision-making attention demanded by hyperlinks saps cognitive power from the reading process, that multiple sensory inputs severely degrade memory retention, that overloading the limited capacity of our short-term memory hampers our ability to lay down long-term memories -- is enough to make you want to run right out and buy Internet-blocking software.

The Wall Street Journal's Peter Kafka wryly argues:

Wouldn't it be weird if the President of the United States gave a speech about the education gap, made a passing reference to technology's ability to distract us -- and then the short attention span media made it look like he was coming for your Twitter account?
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Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.

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