The newly sworn-in leader of the broadband generation and his faithful staff of Facebookers, MySpacers, YouTubers and Tweeters (Twitterers?) showed up for work yesterday to discover that the White House is still living in a dial-up world. Among the findings: computers with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software, a scarcity of laptops, disconnected phone lines and no access to Facebook, outside e-mail or instant messaging. I love this quote from Obama spokesman Bill Burton in a Washington Post story: "It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari,"
President Obama was elected to the nation's highest office, in part, because of a successful campaign on the Internet - from participation on social networking sites to e-mail updates to Twitter feeds. Silicon Valley - myself included - believed that, under Obama, cutting-edge technology would finally get some respect from Washington. Finally, we had elected someone who understood that the value of YouTube reached beyond teenagers posting videos from the skateboard park.
But, wait. There's still hope that the Obama administration will reset the Washington mindset when it comes to tech. Just this morning, reports are surfacing that a government agency has added a "super-encryption package" to the standard Blackberry. No one is confirming that the device is actually for the President himself but I'm sure - given how adamant he was about hanging on to his Blackberry - that he'll get his hands on one of these super-encrypted devices. Adding the upgrade had to be easier that sending a senior staffer in to the Oval office to tell the most powerful man on the planet to "hand it over."
Sure, security is a big issue. The President's communications definitely need to be protected and kept away from bad guys who want to do harm to our nation. But there's also a compelling reason to keep that device in the President's hand. In a CNN interview before the inauguration, Obama himself said it best:
I want to be able to have voices, other than the people who are immediately working for me, be able to reach out and ... send me a message about what's happening in America
There's no word yet on whether restricted access to Facebook, Gmail or Yahoo IM will be lifted any time soon. And, as far as the concern about outdated Microsoft software on the White House computers, here's my advice: Wait for Windows 7 or, better yet, buy some Macs. According to a Washington Post story, staffers were working on Macs on the campaign trail, so this downgrade to and old version of Windows has got to be tough for them.
Here's a thought: instead of a government bailout for the tech industry - hey, everyone else is getting one - maybe the government can inject some funds into the tech sector with a full systems upgrade for the federal government. If the White House is in this bad of shape, I can only imagine what's on the desks in offices at the Senate, House, EPA, FDA, FBI and other government agencies offices in DC.
Of course, money is tight and the economy is bad. But it sounds like Washington is due for a major upgrade. Call it an investment in the future and a sign of change and citizens will surely rally around the cause.
Maybe I'll start a Facebook group.