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A Geek's Distillation of "The Promise"

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, July 21 2010

So, I'm reading through "The Promise" now, Jonathan Alter's book on Barack Obama's first year in office, and there are some tasty bits for our tech-minded readers. What emerges, up until page 220 at least, is a picture of a man who might not always have the strongest grasp on the particulars of technology, the Internet, and innovation, but who is extremely keyed into the promise that connected technologies hold. I thought you might enjoy enjoy some peeks into the text. But don't let that stop you from getting the book. It's a good read, if a little strangely written -- it's written in the past tense, a "second draft" of history as Alter puts it, even in cases where the events are still on-going. But no matter, as it gives us some nice insight into Barack Obama, geek-in-chief.

On what he was thinking with the creation of Recovery.gov:

The minority whip, Eric Cantor, a rising young Republican from Virginia, told Obama that he could get further input from the GOP if he posted the bill on the Web. Obama chuckled. "I could feign surprise and play politics as usual," he said, before explaining that they'd already thought of the idea of Recovery.gov. "[But] we can cal it the Cantor plan if you want."

On the list of twenty-five to thirty or so people who achieved the "ultimate status symbol," as Alter puts it, of making it onto the list of those who can email the President's customized BlackBerry; Obama, when he got the device, reportedly declared, "I've won the fight!" Alter differs:

The lawyers and paper pushers sought to control what reached the president -- all for his own good of course. But this was a potentially harmful decision. It meant that Obama was deprived of the back channels to a couple hundred friends who, without abusing the privilege, had occasionally offered him useful email advice during the campaign. He could reach them anytime by phone, of course, but that wasn't the same. The bubble had won.

And on whether the eventual Obama Presidential Library might possibly be a virtual one:

In the fall of 2009 University of Chicago officials approached the White House about housing Obama's presidential library. They were told it was too early. To the extent that he had thought about a library, he mused to a friend that maybe it should be an "online library," not bricks and mortar. This almost certainly won't happen; the demand for a splashy museum will likely be too great. But it said something about his state of mind.

Related: Who Needs Presidential Libraries When You've Got the Web? (August 2009)

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