Luddite President: Obama on Communication Technology
So we all know that institutions are conservative by their nature as are the old people who typically occupy their venerable posts. The American Presidency is no exception and Obama, though he runs a comparatively tech savvy White House, alas, does not Twitter. The Economist has come out against his technophobia, but really how opposed is the President to new communication platforms?
No doubt the White House and State Department’s effort to outfit their agèd institutions with the newest technologies is a directive from below. More than likely it is the underlings in the Obama administration whose relative newness to the earth makes them more suited to contemporary communication technologies. Indeed each time the White House does a live Internet broadcast there is usually a trio of youngin’s circled around an Apple laptop.
But Obama’s comment, picked up by The Economist, that new communication technologies are a distraction rather than a boon to democracy is a question worth considering. The president’s apparent charge is that too many people are saying too much, or rather, too little, and instead of enriching the market place of ideas, short, glib comments on Twitter and elsewhere are diluting it. To an extent, the British magazine is right to say that the problem lies with human nature, but that’s only partly true. It is true that people have always engaged in gossip, but only recently has gossip been given a global interconnected network and only recently have people started to pass their lives away before a computer screen.
Television had the same promise. It could have educated everyone for almost nothing, but there are hundreds of worthless channels and bad made-for-TV movies. It’s much the same with the Internet: plenty of unfulfilled potential. That space of unfulfilled potential is human nature, but so too is our ability to create the potential in the first place, which is no negligible feat.
Newspapers have editors for a reason: someone must be accountable for what gets published, printed and put on websites. The government may be (a representative) democracy but why should the distribution of information seek to mimic the process by which government officials are elected? The point of news is not to have your views represented—that is what the dinner table and the bar and the political meeting and the ballot are for. The point of news is to create informed citizens who are more equipped to make decisions for their country.
A solution to the fear Obama has of a market place of ideas filled with junk stores is to have more online editors filtering out the hot air. It’s a tough job and one that the sillier ranters and ravers on the Net will say sounds like a propaganda chief, or something hyperbolic like that, but we’ve always trusted newspapers to edit content, so why aren’t we asking for more editing on the Internet? Is our love of democracy so singular and bovine?
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A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.
- Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
- The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
- According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
When these companies compete, in the current system, the people lose.
- When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
- When this phenomenon happens in the pharmaceutical world, companies quickly apply for broad protection of their patents, which can last up to 20 years, and fence off research areas for others. The result of this? They stay at the top of the ladder, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
- Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation the same as product invention. Companies should still receive an incentive for coming up with new products, he says, but not 20 years if the product is the result of "tweaking" an existing one.
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