Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Obama's Very Success Disproves His Critique of Television and Video Games

I'm an Obama supporter, but, as I indicated here last night, that doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. One thing I disagreed with in his excellent speech last night after the Wisconsin primary was his swipe at television and video games, as activities we need to get our children away from - I said I thought television actually made a positive contribution to our lives, by giving more of us more useful information, and video games certainly don't do anyone any harm.

One of my best students, Mike Plugh, wondered how I could say this, given the claims of critics such as Robert Putnam that watching television engenders civic apathy and lack of participation, and Neil Postman that watching television makes us rude, illiterate, uncivilized.

There is no convincing statistical evidence that television has caused any of this - there was plenty of public apathy in Victorian times, it just wasn't surveyed - but there is a far better way of refuting Obama's point:

Just look at the enormous success of Obama's campaign so far. One of its spearheads are high school and college students, and recent grads, who are for the first time in recent history being drawn into the active political process by Obama's revolutionizing message.

In other words, at a time when television viewing - if you add in cable and YouTube - is burgeoning, as is the playing of video games, we find people in their teens and twenties more politically involved than ever before.

That's by far the most persuasive refutation of Obama's concerns about TV and video games. Did they create a generation of under-achievers? Just look at the results in the primaries thus far...

For more of my refutation of Postman's claims about television (he was my doctoral dissertation mentor at New York University), and other critiques, see my The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution. And here's a clip of my oft-cited "debate" with Jack Thompson about violence and video games.
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