White House, no BlackBerry: Obama losing his tech edge

John
John Gushue
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The BlackBerry may be a marvelous tool, but it can be a marvelous distraction, too, and a spark for friction and the odd faux pas. If you've ever been in a meeting where one participant suddenly starts tapping their thumbs, you'll know what I mean.

There's also that awkward scene played out at restaurants and dinner tables nightly, as many diners sneak in "just one peek" to any mail that might have arrived.

Surf's up - The BlackBerry may be a marvelous tool, but it can be a marvelous distraction, too, and a spark for friction and the odd faux pas. If you've ever been in a meeting where one participant suddenly starts tapping their thumbs, you'll know what I mean.

There's also that awkward scene played out at restaurants and dinner tables nightly, as many diners sneak in "just one peek" to any mail that might have arrived.

So, when word leaked out last weekend that U.S. president-elect Barack Obama was being told he would have to wean himself off his BlackBerry, it made the news.

For good reason. Obama, after all, used his BlackBerry like previous politicians used a pen.

Of course, Obama was not the first candidate elected president who had been an e-mail user. U.S. President George W. Bush retired an American Online account in 2000, after being put in a similar position.

Obama, though, has reinvented how technology and politics blend together. A web-based fundraising campaign was so successful Obama opted not to take matching federal funds (and the spending restrictions that go with them). His campaign built state-of-the-art databases on voter information that brought workers into states and districts where Democrats are not supposed to thrive.

And, of course, Obama has practically lived on his BlackBerry. He eschewed traditional briefing books - you know, on paper - instead preferring to skim on his PDA. Ditto for the news. And, of course, he used it to tap directly into contacts near and far.

That's fine - and may soon be essential - for political candidates. Apparently, it's not cool for presidents.

For one thing, there's that whole security thing. If hackers take it as a point of pride that they can hack into a private company's site, imagine the incentive for getting into the e-mail of the proverbially most important smartphone on Earth.

Secondly, Obama has apparently been advised that everything he generates - every word of correspondence - will be archived. That, presumably, could include messages that consist of nothing other than "Thx" and "K."

It's the same reason, evidently, that Obama won't get his wish to have a laptop in the Oval Office. Evidently, wireless doesn't work too well in that particular part of the White House.

I would imagine that Obama would not give up his tech toys all that easily. After all, they've also given him his edge. Sure, the president would need to be in a bit of a bubble, but wouldn't it make sense he would want to hold on to the very connections that worked so well for him so far?

Elsewhere this week

Life photo archive

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Life, the magazine, went through several incarnations. Its best years, though, were decades ago, when its photojournalism was among the best the world has ever known. In a remarkable digital project, millions of images owned by Life have been scanned and posted to the web, all of it hosted by Google. I can see many people losing themselves for hours here.

The Daily Beast

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Cheeky name, buzzy site. The Daily Beast is a site that looks like a blog, reads like a magazine and catches you up pretty quickly on what people are yacking about. It also comes with a blue-ribbon pedigree. It was launched just last month by Tina Brown, the former editor of both Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. (She obviously read Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, in which The Daily Beast was the site of the satirical shenanigans.) I like it. It hasn't become a must-see part of my daily diet, but I've enjoyed every visit.

Splash Back

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Here's a strategy game that will amuse kids and adults alike. In a grid of 36 squares, your job is to splash out any blobs that appear; each little puddle gets increasingly bigger until it bursts, send drops in four directions. You only have so many drops to add, so be choosy, although chain reactions let you build up a reservoir.

John Gushue is a news writer for CBCNews.ca in St. John's. E-mail: surf@thetelegram.com. Read past Surf's Up columns and daily updates at his blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Democrats, Oval Office, Google Vanity Fair New Yorker

Geographic location: U.S., St. John's

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