It's Evident

Back


Technology A Year After the National Election
Susan Zucker, Ph.D., NCSTL Director of Technology & Distance Education

The Election of Barack Obama

I preface this short article on technology a year after the national election by discussing some interesting issues associated with the election of Barack Obama. President Obama is reportedly a technophile and the most tech-savvy president ever. He uses the latest technological devices and won’t be without his Blackberry - rumored to be the 8830 World Edition (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/01/obama-my-blackb)1.

Digital devices allow the president to stay in touch with the people and promote a flow of ideas. He used the Internet, specifically YouTube, the video-sharing website, and other social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to organize his campaign. All fundraising records were broken as a result of his digital efforts. President Obama directly broadcasts messages to open communication between the government and the people through social media avenues. He continues to communicate via social media channels to encourage dialog and derive creative solutions to problems.

President Obama’s use of the Internet and more specifically, the World Wide Web, ended domination of traditional media, revolutionized fundraising, and transformed how candidates speak to voters. “Ordinary citizens are back in the game for the first time in decades, promoting causes and holding politicians' feet to the fire with a click of the mouse.” (http://www.independent.ie/business/technology/the-first-youtube-election-1496290.html)2

Since the election

It is no wonder that an elaborate technology plan was initiated by the president as part of his domestic and international policy. President Obama’s technology plan is available on the website, www.barackobama.com. The plan ensures:
  • an open Internet and network neutrality to promote open competition, diversity and communication;
  • creation of a transparent and participatory democratic government which makes more information available online and provides venues for citizens to provide feedback on pending legislation or regulation (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2008/11/obama-goes-gunning-for-geek-votes.ars)3;
  • deployment of next-generation broadband, a communications infrastructure vital for cutting costs and protecting the country against terrorism;
  • preparation of all children for the 21st century;
  • renewed American competition;
  • use of science and technology to solve the nation’s most pressing problems – healthcare, environment/climate, biomedical research, green energy, etc., so that America is not at risk of being left behind in the global economy; and,
  • protection of American intellectual property abroad and reinvigoration of antitrust enforcement and reformation of the patent system to encourage innovation.
The plan stresses the need to:
  • connect citizens so that collective problem solving is realized and new technologies and media outlets are developed and used;
  • invest more federal dollars in the physical sciences and engineering research;
  • protect the right to privacy consistent with the First Amendment and to protect children against those who commit Internet crime against them;.
  • impose strict penalties against perpetrators who hurt children; and,
  • develop enforcement resources, forensic tools for law enforcement and collaboration between law enforcement and the private sector.
The three top priorities of the new administration are to use web technologies to improve communication, achieve transparency, and increase participation to fulfill President Obama’s vision of open source government. The administration was the first to leverage the Internet by using Google’s YouTube to win his campaign. In so doing a generation of Americans and citizens around the world were reached who no longer depend on radio or television for their primary news. President Obama continues to disseminate information via the Internet by recording fireside chats. These are published via social media sites like YouTube. The new White House administration instituted the first official White House blog and you can receive email updates from the president by signing up for them. President Obama is the first U.S. president to have an RSS feed. He has more followers on Twitter than anyone else (168,000) and he has 4 million fans on Facebook. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/change_has_come_to_whitehouse-gov/) 4 and (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/24/how-obama-will-use-web-technology/)5

President Obama says he is working on providing the most open, honest and transparent administration to date. The Obama transition team posted the minutes of hundreds of private meetings after the election on the Your Seat at The Table section on the Change.Gov transition site. The Obama Administration has also been conducting bold experiments in interactive government with citizens suggesting topics the president should consider, voting topics up or down, and including comments. This use of social media and voting, ranking and commenting are hallmark features of web-based, social media applications. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/change_has_come_to_whitehouse-gov/)6 (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/24/how-obama-will-use-web-technology/)7

Recently

During his first year, President Obama made several cabinet appointments: Vivek Kundra is serving in the new post of Chief Information Officer to oversee the use of information technology by government agencies; Aneesh Chopra is the nation's first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) whose job is to ensure that the U.S. government and all its agencies have appropriate infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century; and Howard Schmidt, who served under President George Bush as a Cybersecurity Advisor, is the new Cybersecurity Coordinator. (http://www.allbusiness.com/economy-economic-indicators/economic-indicators/12342596-1.html)8 and (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/22/AR2009122201429.html?wpisrc=nl_pmtech)9

President Obama is also addressing concerns about the antiquated computer technology used by federal employees and federal agencies. He wants to increase government efficiency by modernizing technology equipment and systems so that “the American people’s hard-earned tax dollars make government work better for them." (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/15/tech/main6099835.shtml)10 The President said that improving the technology used by the government “isn’t about having the fanciest bells and whistles on our websites”. It is about the effective use of processes. He offered an example of the inefficient way the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office processes patent applications. Despite the fact that over 80% of patent applications are submitted electronically, the government still prints and scans the applications before entering them into an "outdated case management system." President Obama states that when Washington lags behind the private sector it has a negative effect on processes and people (Obama aims to improve gov't technology, cut waste: (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/14/AR2010011402988.html)11 and (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/15/tech/main6099835.shtml)12

Two agencies, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service, are in charge of awarding 7.2 billion dollars of stimulus grants for broadband projects. They noticed that applicants were interested in applying for the grants but were having trouble finding complementary partners. On January 7, 2010, BroadbandMatch, which offers a website on which users can post a profile and search for business partners, was launched. The aim is to bring together state and local governments, nonprofits, companies, and "expert" individuals interested in teaming together to apply for stimulus money. The expectation is that this will ensure a stronger, more creative applicant pool. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/14/AR2010011402988.html)13

Most recently

The Internet’s vastness opens new markets and arenas for discourse. Because the Internet is global and has few barriers preventing participation, it is changing the political dynamics of international law in both form and enforcement. It is likely that the influence of the international legal system will increase. Further, it is clear that new forms of regulation will evolve as countries struggle to regulate Internet conduct. This is a struggle to avoid threats to local values. Examples can be seen in China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, and Uzbekistan whose governments attempt to block Internet traffic as communication technology in their countries increases. (The Internet is Changing the Public International Legal System- http://www.kentlaw.edu/cyberlaw/perrittnetchg.html)14

Concerns about the fair and equitable use of technology and the Internet are on the minds of this administration. On January 20, 2010, after several incidents of online censorship and cyber attacks have presented new questions for the role of technology in diplomacy, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton demanded that China investigate claims by Google that e-mail accounts belonging to human rights activists had been targeted by hackers and called for unfettered access to the Internet around the globe. (Hillary Clinton calls for Web freedom, demands China investigate Google attack – (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/21/AR2010012101699.html?wpisrc=nl_pmtech)15

Clinton is calling for nations to band together to punish cyber attacks meant to quiet citizens and disrupt businesses abroad. This issue attracted greater attention since Google’s Gmail was hacked this week by people searching for sensitive information on Chinese activists. Google has threatened to withdraw from China but the Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs downplayed the incident. (Hillary Clinton calls for Web freedom, demands China investigate Google attack – (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/21/AR2010012101699.html?wpisrc=nl_pmtech)16

Clinton is concerned that virtual walls are popping up “in place of visible walls." She indicates that the United States will defend the ability of all people to connect and freely transfer information over the Web.

This stance sends a strong signal that technology plays an important role in U.S. diplomacy. Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law at Harvard University and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, writes that these represent a set of interrelated problems having to do with connectedness. Clinton stated that $15 million will become available for grass-roots efforts to create Web applications that help stop violence against women and children and allow people to find ways to communicate over the Web even when their governments attempt to block them. (Hillary Clinton calls for Web freedom, demands China investigate Google attack – (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/21/AR2010012101699.html?wpisrc=nl_pmtech)17

Many of the United States’ allies are not inclined to adopt principles, citing the fact that the U.S. is an outlier on speech rights. This puts the United States in a delicate position when it tries to balance its interest in geopolitics with human rights. An additional issue is, “To what degree are we willing to hold ourselves to these high standards?” (Hillary Clinton calls for Web freedom, demands China investigate Google attack – (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/21/AR2010012101699.html?wpisrc=nl_pmtech)18

Final thoughts

Clearly, President Obama has a powerful techno-demographic appeal that helped him win the seat of the most powerful person in the world. His win can be categorized as a groundswell of support among the Facebook generation. Facebook was aware of its new and powerful role in American electoral politics; forums were launched by the site to encourage online debates about voter issues. Facebook also teamed up with major television networks to offer election coverage while CNN paired with YouTube to hold presidential debates. (Obama's win means future elections must be fought online - (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/07/barackobama-uselections2008)19

Internet costs were a fraction of what they would have been if President Obama had to rely on television advertising. The web is truly a low-cost with high-reach place. Candidate Obama was by a long stretch the most effective online politician during the presidential campaign. He used web 2.0 to his advantage including Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, Digg, BlackPlanet, LinkedIn, AsianAve, MiGente, Glee - and more. The YouTube coup de grace was the blockbuster "Yes We Can" videoclip. Candidate Obama also effectively used podcasts and electoral messaging to mobile devices. “As voters shift by the million towards the internet to interact, to buy things and to participate in politics, those seeking office are rushing to establish an online presence and connect on the ground.” (Obama's win means future elections must be fought online - http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/07/barackobama-uselections2008)20

Up

1 Chen, BX. Obama: My BlackBerry Is Coming With Me. GADGET LAB (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/01/obama-my-blackb) (accessed January 21, 2010).
2 Palmer, C. The first YouTube election. Independent.ie Technology (http://www.independent.ie/business/technology/the-first-youtube-election-1496290.html) (accessed January 21, 2010).
3 Sanchez, J. On eve of election, Obama goes gunning for geek votes. ars technica (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2008/11/obama-goes-gunning-for-geek-votes.ars) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
4 The White House Blog: Change has come to WhiteHouse.gov. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/change_has_come_to_whitehouse-gov/) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
5 How Obama Will Use Web Technology. (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/24/how-obama-will-use-web-technology/) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
6 The White House Blog: Change has come to WhiteHouse.gov. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/change_has_come_to_whitehouse-gov/) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
7 How Obama Will Use Web Technology. (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/24/how-obama-will-use-web-technology/) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
8 Pierce, S. Obama Appoints First U.S. CTO. (http://www.allbusiness.com/economy-economic-indicators/economic-indicators/12342596-1.html) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
9 Nakashima, E. and Wilgoren, D. Obama names Howard Schmidt as cybersecurity coordinator. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/22/AR2009122201429.html?wpisrc=nl_pmtech) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
10 Obama: Feds Still Use Outdated Technology. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/15/tech/main6099835.shtml) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
11 Metzler, N.T. Obama aims to improve gov't technology, cut waste. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/14/AR2010011402988.html) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
12 Obama: Feds Still Use Outdated Technology. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/15/tech/main6099835.shtml) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
13 Obama aims to improve gov't technology, cut waste. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/14/AR2010011402988.html) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
14 Perritt, H.H. The Internet is Changing the Public International Legal System. (http://www.kentlaw.edu/cyberlaw/perrittnetchg.html) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
15 Kang, C. Hillary Clinton calls for Web freedom, demands China investigate Google attack. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/21/AR2010012101699.html?wpisrc=nl_pmtech) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
16 Id.
17 Id.
18 Id.
19 Fraser, M. and Dutta, S. Obama's win means future elections must be fought online. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/07/barackobama-uselections2008) (accessed on January 21, 2010).
20 Id.