We’re eight years into the 21st Century, but the United States is about to get its first 21st Century president. And as Barack Obama prepares to take the White House into the digital age, it’s becoming clear that the transition won’t be an easy one.
Imagine a global corporation whose CEO doesn’t have an email address or a laptop, let alone a BlackBerry. Well, that’s been the federal government for all these years. That’s partially because former presidents were from a different generation that never saw the need for these technological advances. But it’s also because being president of the United States is unlike any other CEO’s job.
The New York Times this weekend had a good recap of all the risks that could face a president in cyberspace — from hackers, who could threaten national security, to the Presidential Records Act, which would place the president’s emails in the public record. Because of these issues, Obama aides said it’s unlikely he’ll use email, although he hopes to have a laptop in the Oval Office.
That’s a real shame, because it’s pretty clear that things like email and BlackBerrys significantly help productivity (assuming Obama doesn’t spend all his time sending forwards to his cabinet members or texting his buddies back in Chicago). The way Obama’s campaign embraced technology was a major reason the campaign reached so many people so efficiently. I understand the risks once he becomes president, but I hope he and his staff can find ways around them and put technology to good use in the White House.
One thing Obama started just this week was posting video of his weekly radio address online. It was a seemingly innocuous move, but even that ruffled some feathers. CNET’s Dan Farber called out Obama for using YouTube to embed the video on his presidential transition site, Change.gov.
“Why should the incoming president, or public official, favor one Internet video service over another?” Farber wrote. “Yahoo, MSN, Blip, Veoh, and other video-sharing sites shouldn’t have to lobby the White House for equal time or at least some time.”
Farber instead suggested that Obama’s team create its own branded, vendor-neutral video player. With the economy in the tank, the war in Iraq still lingering on, and still no college football playoff system in sight, Obama’s got his hands full, and creating a video player is probably very low on the priority list. But Farber’s blog just goes to show that anything Obama does with technology will face a lot of scrutiny.