Sunday, November 16, 2008

Obama, The First Cybergenic President of America

In a New York times article back in August, Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley futurist said that if elected, President Elect Barack Obama would become “the first cybergenic president,” just as John F. Kennedy was considered the first telegenic president. (cybergenic meaning internet friendly, telegenic meaning attractive to television viewers)

In my opinion what Obama being elected now means is that for the first time in the history of the American presidency we actually have a leader who understands the context of what the Internet enables not only as a mass communication medium but as a global channel for change.

It's also interesting to look at historical parallels to see the opportunities that embracing new technologies can do for American leaders. Whether it's President Kennedy's simple ability engage 1960s television viewers or how Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War (a book by Tom Wheeler).

Wheeler's book gives a particularly insightful look at how President Lincoln's use of the telegraph trickled down to most parts of his government while also enabling a competitive advantage to his closest advisors and generals. In the book Tom Wheeler gives an example of how General Grant used the telegraph to operate what he called the "General-In-Chief" while traveling with the armies, rather than managing at a distance from Washington D.C. Grant now had the technological advantage to quickly improvise, based upon changing battlefield conditions. I find Wheeler analogy for General Grant perfect for today's president, "His decision to operate from the field would not have been possible but for the army's central nervous system running over telegraph wires." Replace the telegraph with the internet or a blackberry and you can quickly see the importance of how a president knowledgeable in the use of information technology can become a critical tool.

In the 21st century as it was in the 19th century, efficient information management is still a key aspect of how effective you can be in your duties as a Chief Executive, be it of a company or a country. I would argue that it's more important now then it has ever been.

At the end of the day, Obama's use of Internet may may give him a unique opportunity to make significant changes, not only to how American's interact with the government but to how they interact with those who run it.

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