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Obama and His iPad: I Do Not Think "Tether" Means What You Think It Means

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, March 30 2011

Here's a funny little mix-up that happened when normal human speech got translated to technologist talk. The tech press is running with a report that not only did President Barack Obama talk at a Univision townhall Monday about having an iPad, he also discussed how he, as CNET's report on the revelation has it, "even tethers it to his high-security BlackBerry cell phone." That seemed strange, given that (a) Obama isn't known as much of a technophile and (b) the President of the United States presumably has other ways to get online besides whipping out a cable and connecting his cell phone to his iPad.

A quick check of the easily accessible transcript of the event posted to WhiteHouse.gov and, nope, Obama never said anything about tethering. What seems to have sparked the confusion is a line in a report on the town hall from the Wall Street Journal's Robert Schroeder:

"Speaking at a town hall in Washington on Monday, Obama disclosed that he owns one of the popular Apple Inc. devices and is also tethered to his BlackBerry."

"Tethered [to]" as in, you know, the traditional, non-geek, sense: that he usually has the thing with him. Or, as Obama said at the event in the remark that sparked the line, "usually I carry a BlackBerry around." The idea that Obama actually physically tethers his cell phone to his iPad to access the Internet has been repeated hundreds of times.

At the other end of the spectrum of presidential expectations, the person who asked Obama about having an iPad in the first place followed up by asking if Obama had "your own computer." Obama had fun with it: "I mean, Jorge, I’m the President of the United States. You think I’ve got a -- (laughter and applause) -- you think I’ve got to go borrow somebody’s computer? "

The full transcript of the exchange that sparked the confusion, and humor, is after the jump.

 MR. RAMOS: Not long ago I was having a conversation with my son. He’s only 12 years old, and he couldn’t believe that I grew up in a world where there were no cell phones, no Internet, no computers. (Laughter.) So do you have your BlackBerry with you, or do you have an iPhone? What do you have?

 THE PRESIDENT: You know, I took my BlackBerry off for this show, because I didn’t want it going off, and that would be really embarrassing. But usually I carry a BlackBerry around.

MR. RAMOS: Do you have an iPad?

 THE PRESIDENT: I do have an iPad.

 MR. RAMOS: Your own computer?

 THE PRESIDENT: I’ve got my own computer.

 MR. RAMOS: Very well. (Laughter.)

 THE PRESIDENT: I mean, Jorge, I’m the President of the United States. You think I’ve got a -- (laughter and applause) -- you think I’ve got to go borrow somebody’s computer? (Laughter.) Hey, man, can I borrow your computer? (Laughter.) How about you? You’ve got one?

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