Technology can isolate people, engage offline: Obama to youth

New Delhi: Cautioning the youth about the pitfalls of technology, former US president Barack Obama said its overuse can actually “isolate people”, even as he urged them to engage more offline rather than just being an “Internet activist”.

Addressing a Town Hall here, attended by a few hundred changemakers from the country, he also asserted that modern gadgets cannot replace the importance of teachers in education.

“Technology is not a not a magic fix for everything…

And, what we are finding now is the dangers of technology, that it can actually isolate people. So that they become so hooked to their devices that they no longer have conversations.

“And, because of the algorithms that are being used often online, when people are searching information, what we are discovering now, is that people start having their pre- existing biases constantly reinforced through the devices, and they never hear information that diverges from what they already believe in,” Obama said.

The 44th US president, who held office between 2009 and 2017, charmed the young achievers, drawn from different parts of the country, with his oratory skills and trademark humour.

During the interactive session that lasted over two hours, Obama delivered a profound message to the youth, while punctuating his response with a disarming candour, sharing anecdotes from his own life and an eventful career at the White House.

“They (people using too much technology) stop listening to all the people they don’t agree with. And, that is not how you become a leader.

“It simply would mean, surrounding yourselves with opinions that fit your own. You don’t challenge yourself or push yourself out of your comfort zones. And, such situations, do not push you to empathise or think about other people,” he cautioned.

The 56-year-old said technology is a powerful tool that can be leveraged for bringing development, but it does not work if a teacher is not incorporated into the social context in which the student is going to learn.

“When it comes to technology and education, it doesn’t replace the importance of teachers. What I have seen sometimes is, people think we are going to put computers in classrooms and somehow, magically kids are going to be better educated “Any training, any leadership development, if it is just relying on technology, and nothing about how, when you have somebody online, how you form communities offline, it is not going to work…If there is no offline interaction, mere online engagement is probably going to be a failure,” he said.

The Town Hall, held at the Teen Murti Bhawan Auditorium here, was organised by the Chicago-based Obama Foundation and was broadcast live on the Internet.

“And, so, I am really focusing on how to build a digital network in the Obama Foundation, that allows people to meet, converge, shares ideas, and also forces people to act offline after meeting online. For people to have conversation outside of the Internet, forces them to meet, engage with people who are not already part of the converted,” he added.

He urged the youth that if they seek a social revolution then they “cannot be just Internet activists”.

“If all you do is be online, then it will be difficult to reach out to people who do not agree with you,” he said.

Source: The New Indian Express

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