Obama enters cyber world

by Roopinder Singh

While people were looking for sartorial clues by checking out Michel Obama’s dress at her husband’s inauguration and subsequent balls, cyber junkies like me were also looking for clues about change in American presidency.
A fumbled oath-taking notwithstanding, change came quickly. The White House official website, Whitehouse.gov, was launched at 12.01 pm, moments after Obama was sworn in as the 44th President, and it was quite different from the one that had been up during the tenure of President George Bush.
“One of the first changes is the White House’s new website, which will serve as a place for the President and his administration to connect with the rest of the nation and the world,” said Macon Phillips, the White House director of New Media, in his message on the site said. Please note: The White House has a person in position and his team is delivering, admittedly after a few fumbles on Day 1. Those of us who see government websites that have not been updated for years can really appreciate this efficiency.
This website is one of the many ways in which IT is being been used by the new President to address the needs of his nation. There is also a nifty form in the “Contact us” section that allows a visitor to write a short (up to 500 words) note. The site was not updated frequently enough, and lacked information, but these are just beginner’s glitches.
While Michel Obama is seen as a style icon, her husband, who cuts no mean a figure himself, is also the President who fought to keep his Blackberry smart phone, and has been seen using a Mac, as does most of his team. Metaphorically, he has been called a Mac, thereby meaning “cool”, and not without reason.
Many old-timers thought the swearing in of the 44th President of the United States of America is in itself the ultimate integration of the black community with the rest. Until it actually happened, it did not seem possible that an African-American would become the leader of the free world, as Americans like to think of their President.
However, for the tech minded, integration that Obama represented had nothing to do with his race. Most of the teeming millions who thronged Washington for the inauguration were youngsters who thought Obama represented integration of the real and virtual word through the Internet, Blackberry, etc.
Candidate Obama blazed a new trail through his website at the beginning of his campaign. At that time he was facing Hillary Clinton and it was obvious that their distinctive personalities were reflected in the kind of websites they had. Hillary’s website was authoritative and a tad ponderous; Obama’s site had freshness meaning and purpose. He was wired, and he raised record millions of dollars in contributions through his website. She was not so tech-savvy, and it appeared that the website was an afterthought in the campaign in which she became an adjunct.
Obama was all over on the Net. From the short messaging site called Twitter to FaceBook, running his blog and answering mails on his Blackberry. Net-savvy people compared his campaign site to a Mac, and Hillary’s website to a Windows, implying savvy and smart for the former and formal and staid for the latter.
Now, it turns out that when Obama team members went to the White House, they found a dearth of Macs and a number of Windows machines with dated software. This was promptly blamed for the problems in updating the White House site in nano-seconds, as promised. Certainly, Windows will be the fall guys for many other inadequacies.
It did not help Windows’ cause the “Microsoft massacre” was announced soon thereafter confirming the company would be axing 5,000 jobs. Imagine President Obama’s Daily Economic Briefing: “Sorry for being late, but the Windows machines took time, and by the way, Microsoft is axing jobs”. Not exactly the good cheer the new President is hoping to spread.
Obama’s is now at a stage where actions will have to speak louder than words. If he delivers, the cyber world is a very powerful toll to communicate his success, if not, the speed and power of denunciation of this medium is legendary. At the end of the day, people want results; the reality of life always affects its extension, the cyber world.

This article was published in The Tribune on January 29, 2009