Anne & Charlie Kreitzberg, Web 2.0 Consultants
As Barack Obama unpacks the cartons and gets settled in the Oval office, he is facing multiple crises. On his plate are two wars, the worst economy since the Great Depression, fighting in the Middle East, North Korea and Iran both threatening to build nuclear weapons — and the threat of losing his beloved Blackberry. Perhaps that last issue seems unimportant compared to the others, but you’d never know it by the amount of press coverage it’s receiving.
Most of the unease appears to be around security issues. Although Blackberry messages are encrypted, they all pass through the servers at Research in Motion, the Canadian company that manufactures the Blackberry. Those servers would be an enticing target for hackers.
It’s happened before. Sarah Palin’s E-mail account was hacked during the campaign. On January 5 the Huffington Post reported that a bunch of Twitter accounts were hacked causing Fox News to “post” a tweet that “Bill O’Reilly is gay,” Britney Spears to “post” an off-color comment, and Barack Obama to “post” a request that his followers complete a brief survey and “possibly win $500 in free gas.” Of course, none of these folks actually posted the comments.
Another concern is that the Blackberry could be used by terrorists to locate the president’s whereabouts. The Blackberry, like all cell phones, is required to transmit location information that enables the call to be traced to a physical location. This feature, known as E911, enables emergency responders to locate a person calling for help. Obviously the U.S. Secret Service is not happy about that.
The final concern relates to the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which mandates the preservation of all presidential records and allows public access through the Freedom of Information Act five years after the president leaves office. It likely that anything that goes through the Blackberry could fall under this Act.
All this aside, we’re rooting for Obama to keep his Blackberry. Here’s why: How can a modern leader function without a sure-fire, unvarnished, direct connection to the real world? There’s nothing better for reaching out anytime, anywhere to anyone than the ubiquitous mobile device.
Presidents have never been known as tech savvy. During the campaign John McCain admitted that he was “an illiterate” when it came to computers. According to an article in Salon, McCain advisor Mark Soohoo said “you don’t necessarily have to use a computer to understand how it shapes the country.” We beg to differ.
This is the age of Web 2.0. It is the foundation of a global information technology infrastructure that supports communications, knowledge transfer, computing, and entertainment. It is impossible to imagine how America can thrive without leveraging the opportunities that the Internet provides.
One thing we have learned about Web 2.0 is that the only way to understand it is hands-on. You need to use it to “get” it. Many organizations have not yet evolved to a web-friendly culture. And the concerns in the business world are the same as the arguments against the presidential Blackberry: security and losing control around the release of information.
But what Obama realizes is that most senior executives live in a bubble where no one likes to be the contrarian in the room, no one wants to be the messenger carrying bad news, and no one likes to tell the emperor he forgot his clothes — even if he’s a really nice guy and doesn’t lose his cool.
Without a link to the “outside” world, senior executives are destined to lose their connections to the world that most of us inhabit. That’s the last thing we want in a president.
President Obama is a role model for other executives for his breakthrough use of technology. Without his brilliant use of the web, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, he might not have become president. These technologies gave people a sense of connection with him, and helped create an enthusiastic and engaged community that supported him. Obama laid the groundwork to continue this connection with www.change.gov and he did it with an apparent ease that makes CIOs envious. The groundwork is in place for a new democracy based on a direct and immediate connection between the government and the people.
We hope that the great technical minds around Obama will be able to work out the kinks so he can keep his Blackberry. It’s more than a cell phone. Barack’s Blackberry is emblematic of a new relationship between Americans and their president.
The Kreitzbergs run Cognetics Corp. (www.cognetics.com) and are experts in usability and Web 2.0. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Rep. Rush Holt
I hope Barack Obama can extend to his entire administration the kind of scientific thinking that he has demonstrated himself — the approach to problems that collects evidence broadly, looks for consistent patterns in that evidence that show how policies are working or not working, looks for contrary evidence, and always operates with the understanding that others might have better, not just different, interpretations of the evidence.
I hope he makes it his commitment to educate all students to understand this kind of scientific thinking. It is through scientific thinking that we innovate and make progress as an economy, a society, and a country.
Rush Holt, a Democrat, formerly served as an administrator at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.