In a month's time Barack Obama will be inaugurated in Washington DC as the 44th US President.
It seems likely that a president elected largely as a result of a hugely successful online campaign notable for its transparency will have to give up his Blackberry and email - the US Presidential Records Act is currently not equipped to deal with modern communication.
As Jeff Zeleny wrote in the New York Times last month:
...For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Mr. Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.
The Internet is the greatest generation gap since rock and roll. We're now witnessing one aspect of that generation gap: the younger generation chats digitally, and the older generation treats those chats as written correspondence. Until our CEOs blog, our Congressmen Twitter, and our world leaders send each other LOLcats – until we have a Presidential election where both candidates have a complete history on social networking sites from before they were teenagers– we aren't fully an information age society.
The Presidential Records Act places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President, and there is concern about Obama's e-mail and digital correspondence being hacked. Managing Director (and effectively CIO) of BT Design JP Rangaswami is in my opinion one of the most forward looking collaboration experts on the planet in a pragmatic position of power.
Anyone working at BT design can read JP's email: his staff have open access to it.
By effectively making his email an open forum JP encourages a transparent culture engendering greater involvement which also encourages use of other networked community technologies such as wikis and blogs.
This 15 minute video interview with JP by ZD Net's Dan Farber 14 months go - an eternity in the hi tech world - demonstrates the thought gap between forward thinkers and the closed loop, linear assembly line generation.
BT group's JP Rangaswami and Bruce Schneier demonstrate that the generation gap isn't primarily about age, it's about process and culture. The older management generation is represented by hidebound bureaucratic thinking around the US Presidential Records Act, which is remarkably similar to the innovation and collaboration choking security restrictions self imposed by large organizations on themselves. Enlightened people of all ages are chaffing at these archaic restrictions both in business and in governments worldwide.
While there is clearly a place for closed loops for sensitive information, transparency is key to effective mobilization around objectives both in politics and in business.
The competitive advantage of open free society is in sharp contrast to, for example, Belarus 'flash mobs' being arrested for eating ice cream in Minsk Square as described in Clay Shirkey's book 'Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations'.
An Obama administration which empowers and validates open, collective interaction around proposed policies online, and which harnesses the power of tools such as Twitter and blogs, will drag the closed loop generation into the 21st century.
This would focus minds - which could otherwise be skewed by twisted propaganda internationally - on policy and encourage interaction around it.
As is the case with IT departments, thought needs to be put into what communications are in plain sight, persistent and shareable, and what should be behind the security firewall and limited to a secure team.
It would be absurd for a newly appointed CEO to have to give up online communication as a prerequisite of his job - why should the new US president?