Newly elected President Barack Obama is said to surround himself with a circle of close friends and advisors at his new address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But his most trusted companion may be a 50 x 106.7 mm black smartphone -- his ever-present BlackBerry.
Obama's attachment to his precious BlackBerry is legendary -- throughout the campaign, he was rarely seen without it strapped to his belt. Aides reported it was constantly abuzz with a stream of messages, and Obama checked it incessantly. (Lest we think these were all matters of national importance, the New York Times reported Obama often sent messages like "Sox!" when the Chicago White Sox won a game.)
Like all past sitting presidents, Obama assumed he would have to give up his personal e-mail address because of security concerns upon taking office. But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced Thursday that Obama would not have to be separated from his BlackBerry after all. A compromise with White House officials will allow Obama to keep the device, though its use will be limited to close personal friends and White House senior staff, Gibbs said.
Obama will be the first sitting president to even use e-mail, let alone e-mail on a mobile device, according to the Associated Press. Even as recently as 2001, former President George W. Bush was forced to give up his personal e-mail address when he took office (Al Gore, however, used a government e-mail address in the later years of his vice-presidency. I guess it helps to have invented the Internet).
Obviously, the security concerns inherent in using any type of computer messaging are worrisome. Aides have said security will be enhanced on Obama's BlackBerry, and only a few trusted counselors will have access to it. But no computer is completely safe, and any communication sent from one could potentially be intercepted. Also, if the BlackBerry were to be lost or stolen, the messages stored on it would be of high interest to terrorist organizations.
But of greater concern to the country than security issues should be Obama's apparent dependence on the device. When asked in November if he would willingly give up his BlackBerry, Obama reportedly replied, "They'll have to pry it from my hands." This statement, coupled with the reports from the campaign trail, paint a picture of a man so attached to his BlackBerry that he finds it extremely difficult to be away from it -- the very definition of an addiction. Is it really a good thing for the President of the United States -- a man who routinely makes decisions our lives may hinge upon -- to be addicted to anything?
Obama emphasized his tech-savvy during the campaign, and it's part of what won him the election. Obviously, it's important for a president to be comfortable around technology. But there is such a thing as becoming too dependent upon technology, and putting the country in danger by sending sensitive e-mails or becoming fixated on a time-wasting device may be crossing the line. In the middle of a tense showdown with Putin or Ahmenajad, do we really want Obama to be distracted by friends updating him on the latest Chicago sports teams' scores?
Being the president of the United States is not a job; it's a lifestyle. Like it or not, when you take the oath of office you give up certain rights and privileges enjoyed by average citizens -- and every president-elect knows it. Obama holding on to his BlackBerry even in the face of such overwhelming national security concerns is the height of selfishness, and Americans should recognize it as such.
Margaret Miceli is a junior majoring in English, media studies and political science and is The Daily Collegian's Monday columnist. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org