The roos were indifferent as usual, even to Gude’s Law.
As I contemplate Obama’s inauguration what comes up for me in terms of Newmediatheory is the theme I have been discussing in recent posts. How new technological environments make us collectively and individually numb as we struggle to come to terms with a new landscape – our vision clouded by the geography of the past. In celebration of the occasion I would propose Gude’s law (Hat Tip to Donald Rumsfeld):
In times of great technological change the ratio of unknown unknowns to known unknowns rises such that they exceed our capacity to accommodate them.
I can think of no politician who personifies McLuhan’s numbness more than ex President Bush. I think it is often mistaken for stupidity. What I believe we are so often witnessing is, in large part, a man who is so embedded in the role of an industrial age CEO that he is completely unaware of the new technological environment in which he operates.
Not so President Obama. While Reagan and Clinton were masters of the television environment, Obama lives in the computer age as well as being absolutely at home on television. But this is my point. All of us are blind to the total disruptions to our settled institutions and ways of thinking that today’s new technological environment serves up to us. And the computer age is still in short pants, to use a Victorian metaphor.
I think Obama’s intelligence and flexibility of mind and the fact that he has spent a greater percentage of his time living in the computer age than any previous president or candidate gives him a much better chance of coping with the what Gude’s law predicts is the remorseless emergence of unknown unknowns. I think he recognizes that he is not dealing with the industrialized world of the past 250 years, but something genuinely different with different possibilities and dangers. His interest in appointing a governmental CTO, as well as his instinct to hang on to his BlackBerry, are small indicators of that awareness.
Last week I was listening to TWIT (Leo Laport’s podcast, This Week In Tech) as I walked my dog Lanthe along a bush track near where I live in Perth, Western Australia. A group of Silicon Valley’s best pundits were debating the merits of then President elect Obama’s attempts to keep his Blackberry. They were humming and hawing about the legal issues and being what I thought was inexcusably numb to the implications of a President using his BlackBerry to Tweet (ie use the social networking software Twitter) to reach his national and world wide constituency. I found myself shouting “Would FDR have used Twitter? He used the Radio to broadcast ‘Fireside Chats” in ’29!! Idiots!” Lanthe is used to me and my eccentricities and fortunately no one else was about, except the roos, who were indifferent as usual.
And there I was doing what McLuhan said we all do – plunging into the future with my eyes firmly fixed on the rear view mirror. I don’t know if Obama should keep his BlackBerry or if he or future presidents will use the directness and spontaneity of the Internet to bypass the press and even the vast PR, legal, and security apparatus that has built up around the American presidency. I do know I will support him as I did his predecessor as he tries to cope with terrorism, and economic crisis. What is new for me is that Obama has a real chance of building new kinds of institutions in the computer age. What computer theorist Eric S Raymond referred to as Homesteading the Noosphere.
Listening today to Leo Laporte’s Mac podcast MacBreak Weekly done just after the inauguration I learned that President Obama has managed to keep his BlackBerry and will continue to use Twitter. Score: President 2, Lawyers 0.