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Our Tech President

On inauguration day, every media outlet tried to get in on the action. As I sat watching the festivities last month, I even pondered this magazine’s “angle” on such a historic event. A White

House announcement on January 22 finally gave me the “hook” that I needed, when I learned that our new “high-tech president” had been granted the right to keep his Blackberry.

Even before the Blackberry decision, the news that President Obama had named a director of new media to run the official White House website, and even had discussed the possibility of hiring the first national chief technology officer (CTO), seemed to bode well for those of us immersed in all things “digital.”

President Obama has made it clear that he will embrace science, technology, and education in his administration, saying, “I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery; if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity.”

Much of Obama’s focus, of course, will be on climate and energy, but the president also has discussed the need for developing a system for electronic medical records and other efficiencies that digital technology integration could provide to a struggling economy.

The still-theoretical CTO concept calls for a national director who would oversee federal government information technology infrastructure and policies, while promoting government transparency, leading development of a national interoperable wireless network for emergency first responders, and promoting technologyrelated economic development. It’s an out-of-the-box concept, for sure, and one that could definitely help the administration as it strives for major upgrades to the country’s infrastructure.

Which brings me back to the Blackberry debate. Initially, it appeared that Obama’s security team would win the battle against the president keeping his “smartphone.” Allowing such an open digital link to the leader of the free world was just too risky, Obama was told. His response was essentially, “Make it work.” With a few compromises, that’s apparently just what his people did.

According to the White House, the president will keep his Blackberry through a compromise that allows him to stay in touch only with senior staff and a small group of personal friends. His use of the device also is limited and its security is enhanced to ensure the president’s ability to communicate. Anyone placed on the “A-list” to receive Obama’s e-mail address must first receive a briefing from the White House counsel’s office, and messages from the president will be designed so that they cannot be forwarded.

For a president who has struggled to end his cigarette-smoking habit, this sounds a little bit like the digital version of nicotine gum for a “crackberry” addict. I always thought that unfettered access to information while on the go was what made mobile devices so appealing. Will the lack of satisfaction from this limited-access mobile device eventually frustrate the president to the point where he drops at least one of his bad habits?

Whether it does or doesn’t, I’m happy to see a relatively young, technology-savvy president in the White House, as we look for ways to rebuild our economy and competitive position in the world.

Jeremy J. Glowacki ([email protected]) is editor of Residential Systems magazine.