You can't just say no
In a moment of calculated fogeyism yesterday, Obama lamented that "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."
Err, says who? And how come Obama has two video game systems, one portable music device, and one computer in this statement? It's a bit like someone of another age saying that with gramophones, board games and radio, information has become a distraction. It may be true that information is becoming distracting, but I'd hardly blame the gramophone for the content of the airwaves.
You'll also notice that Obama blames the velocity of information on hardware he doesn't understand rather than things like blogs, which he does understand. That's presumably because he actually uses things like blogs -- we've reported that Obama read Andrew Sullivan during the Iranian protests -- and so knows too much to caricature them.
Anyway, let me turn this over to Ta-Nehisi Coates:
I came up in a place and a time that I did not understand, and thus spent much of my youth translating. What little solace I had, I found in locales that were disdained by the larger culture. X-Men and Spider-Man taught me that it was OK to be different -- but comic books weren't "real reading." Hip-hop taught me the power of words and helped me better translate the world I'd been born into -- but hip-hop wasn't "real music." Programming my little Commodore-64 taught me about world-building -- but programming a C-64 was not "real work." D&D taught me about the power of imagination -- but D&D was devil-worship.
What saved me from the pronouncements of the broader culture was my parents. My dad was a comic-book fan as a kid. My mother once went so far as to roll a character and actually play a session with me and one of my brothers. My dad, for whatever reason, knew to listen to NWA, to listen to Ice Cube, to listen to PE, critique it, and then hand it back. Perhaps I have this wrong, but I don't think that's the normal way for most geeks. But given the sanctions of the larger culture, I don't know what I'd do without it. The world is suspicious of the new. But I didn't immediately know that Moby Dick, Picasso and Coltrane were genius. What would I have been without the bridge of those new languages, of those new ways of being?
You can be saved by comics and virtual worlds and Playstations or you can lose yourself in them. The difference, in many cases, is having guides, as Coates did. And that's why it's dangerous for older generations to simply declare themselves finished with new technologies and modes of experience. Younger generations aren't going to walk away from these products, but they'll be on their own in their attempts to navigate them.
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