Archive for March, 2009

White House 2.0: the First Tech President

Monday, March 9th, 2009

This is a great article written by one of our staff writers, enjoy:

By the end of his eight-year term, former President Bill Clinton had sent a total of two emails: the first a test, the second a message to astronaut John Glenn on the space shuttle Discovery. President Barack Obama is likely to have sent more emails than that in the first hour after his inauguration. Renowned for his frequent BlackBerry use and his grassroots, online-based campaigning, Obama has been hailed as the first “tech president.” Technology-based changes at the executive level have the potential for major ramifications not only in the tech sphere, but in everything from healthcare to energy to government itself.

Despite broad adoption by the public, the Internet was not taken seriously as a campaign tool until recent years. 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean made his campaign a major player with the money raised through his online network of donors, and Congressman Ron Paul became an Internet sensation in his bid for the 2008 Republican nomination, at one point raising over four million dollars online in a single day. The latest presidential campaign marked a clear convergence of politics and the Web, with Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain trading barbs not just on CNN but on YouTube and Facebook. With the money he raised online, Obama was able to forego public financing and outspend McCain. At the same time, McCain was able to remain competitive even with limited funds by emphasizing Internet-based spending over traditional media.

Announcing his candidacy for the presidency in early 2007, Obama proclaimed his desire to be among “the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age.” On the official White House web site, Obama speaks of “the immense transformative power of technology and innovation and how they can improve the lives of Americans.” His agenda as president gives weight to this rhetoric. A major part of his health care plan is the implementation of electronic health care records, making it possible for doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients to stay on the same page and avoid costly miscommunications. The energy gains Obama hopes for depend on scientific and technological innovation in both the development of new energies and the enhancement of existing ones. And in appointing the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer to lead an interagency effort to increase governmental efficiency, Obama has shown he is serious about using technology to better integrate the various elements of government.

For all Obama’s emphasis on change, the office of the presidency is one that has a myriad of security concerns which threaten his own reliance on technology. His heavy Blackberry use brought challenges from White House officials, concerned that the security of the messages Obama sends as president could be compromised. Obama’s staffers, who had depended heavily on instant messaging as a form of office communication, were surprised to find out that security restrictions barred them from doing so in the White House. Still, technology and the presidential office have largely mixed favorably, with one standout example being Obama’s weekly YouTube addresses to the nation, a 21st-century version of Franklin Roosevelt’s famous radio-based fireside chats.

At noon on January 20, 2009 – before Obama had even been sworn into office –, the official website of the White House, had been transformed into a sleek, modern site promising accessibility and accountability. Users can review all non-emergency legislation on the site well before it is signed, and it features Obama’s weekly video addresses as well as an official White House blog. If Obama’s plans pan out, the collaborative nature of the Internet and the social networks that he used to such effect during the campaign will now be used as a tool to advance the democratic process, keeping voters informed and engaged in America’s affairs. John Glenn would be proud.