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Must a 21st-century president be held captive to 20th-century trappings? That's the question before President-elect Barack Obama. If tradition wins out, he'll soon be forced to give up his BlackBerry.
Obama may well be addicted to the so-called CrackBerry, the belt bling that's powered profits for Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) for nearly a decade. On the campaign trail, he was rarely without it. "His BlackBerry was constantly crackling with emails," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told The New York Times recently.
And why not? Smartphones are just that -- smart. Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone has some 6,000 utilities available for download at its App Store. Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) has more than 9,000 available for its Symbian operating systems. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) says that more than 18,000 software programs run on its Windows Mobile OS.
For Obama, having the BlackBerry meant being able to respond to questions and edit documents quickly. That could all change come Jan. 20, 2009. Presidents don't typically email or carry digital devices; security is too big a concern. The Obama Administration will also be subject to the Presidential Records Act, which places all correspondence up for review.
That's an issue. Emails frequently find their way into evidence in civil complaints, and government cases aren't likely to differ. I can't blame Obama's team for wanting to keep the president-elect off email.
But this campaign, more than any other, embraced technology to engage voters. More than 138,000 were following Obama's candidacy via Twitter. Another 164,000 were fans of the candidate on Facebook. Why forfeit momentum now, when so many -- rightly or wrongly -- view this administration as one capable of holding the first real national conversations on oft-avoided topics like race relations?
The good news: Obama has already made history by engaging YouTube for an updated version of the presidential "fireside chats" that Franklin D. Roosevelt began some 75 years ago. Please let that be just the first step.
As much as I believe that Obama has a responsibility to use the technology that helped to elect him as a vehicle for democratic discourse, the investor in me marvels at this moment in time. The President-elect, by his example, can change the way we use the Web and other technology for citizenship. And that, in turn, could fill the coffers of the superstars of the social Web.
Let Obama be Obama. Tech could use the boost.
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