2009: The Year of America’s First Wifi President


jeffrey-feldman iiGiven that media critics often describe FDR as the first “radio
president” and JFK as the first “TV president,” logic dictates that 2009 brought
forth the first entry in a new era: the Wifi President.

With his Blackberry forever in tow, a sophisticated election campaign grounded in new social networking media, and the most YouTube friendly White House communications team ever to grace Pennsylvania Avenue— Barack Obama has, more than any to date, harnessed the power of Internet to advance his Presidential goals.

His predecessor was still a long way off.  When asked if he was familiar with the World Wide Web, President George W. Bush famously responded, “I’m familiar. I can click around and surf around.”  It was not exactly the answer of a net savvy politico.

Even in the months leading up to 2009, Obama brought quite a high tech contrast to the White House. From the earliest phase of his bid for the Presidency, Obama’s public persona was fused with the Internet at an almost genetic level.

A self-identifying “crackberry” junky, photos of a smiling Obama as he sent emails from his Blackberry had the effect humanized him early in the campaign, much the same way that photos of past candidates hunting or fishing might have done. 

The instantly iconic Obama campaign logo–a soft blue “O” bisected by a swath of color that was part Stars and Stripes, part rainbow–took its graphic cues from the popular Web 2.0 typographic styles familiar to users of Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and Reddit. 

At the same time, we learned that Barack Obama was a Mac user–and a geeky one at that.  A photo of Obama on ComputerWeekly.com, ran with the headline “Barack Obama – The First Truly Digital President.”  The picture showed Obama at his desk surrounded by jump drives and an open Macbook personalized with a Pacman sticker–presidential candidate as Internet nerd.

Just as Bill Clinton played saxophone on late night TV and pitched politics to a new generation of voters joined at the hip to MTV, Obama’s campaign sent a constant stream of emails to appeal for money, boots on the ground, and the perpetual battle cry of “hope.”

Far more important even than the speeches Obama gave to tens of thousands of attendees, his internet campaign used the internet to connect millions of voters to the candidate and to each other.  Fund raising appeals and calls to GOTV spread like electronic tentacles from campaign headquarters in Chicago through laptops, cell phones, and hand held devices.  And people loved it because the Internet campaign gave them the same social immediacy that they found on the most popular websites and on group blogs.

What made all this possible for Obama was not just the bare bones of the Internet, which was more an innovation of the 90s than this past year. They key for Obama was the now ubiquitous Wifi hookup points that now peppered the country.  While Wifi and broadband were present in the 2004 campaign, 2008 was the first time that the majority of the campaign volunteering public was equipped with devices capable of reading and uploading information to and from the internet from just about anywhere.

And in 2009, Obama brought it all to the White House.

>>>NEXT: The Wifi President Takes Office

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