Weapons of mass distraction

At Book Madam, Julie Wilson recently linked to remarks made by President Barack Obama and reported on HuffingtonPost. Speaking to graduates of Hampton University, the President expressed concern 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.”

The emphasis – “none of which I know how to work” – is mine.

Commencement addresses are seldom important enough be remembered (there are exceptions), and I appreciate President Obama’s attempt to connect with the graduates, most of whom were probably thrilled to have a speaker whose name will be remembered 25 years from now.

Unfortunately, saying “none of which I know how to work” undercuts the President’s own objection (how do you know they are a distraction if you’ve not used them?). It also underscores the problem that afflicts a cross-section of content providers who can’t resist chasing the “new shiny”.

On the demand side, devices may distract, but if we are distracted, it’s not the device’s fault. We are responsible for how we choose to spend our time (probably the President’s intended message). That we have devices is not bad; it’s how we choose to use them that matters.

On the supply side, devices will not save publishing. They present challenges, and they provide opportunities, but the same can be said about shifts in the supply chain or the decline of the single-copy sales channel.

On either side, failing to understand how the technologies work can’t be excused as some quaint generational shift. If devices truly are important to a business model, the people leading content companies need to embrace the technologies, not just sign off on them.

A shallow understanding presents the real threat: that we’ll keep taking our eyes off the ball to pursue the latest and greatest development. Devices and features will proliferate. If content providers don’t learn to deal with that, devices may well become weapons of mass distraction.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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