Sunday, January 25, 2009

Media and Technology: An Interests Showdown for Obama

Last tuesday, like most people at Syracuse, I watched elatedly as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.  It was a historic moment any way you slice it, and all eyes are on Obama now as he attempts to live up to the hope over 66 million of us placed in him last November.

There's been no shortage of news speculation as to how he will handle one pressing issue or another.  However, being me, I've been wondering about another angle.  Perhaps not the most important or pressing, but one which greatly interests me.

Aside from the pomp of the ceremony itself, two things about President Obama's inauguration day struck me. First:  the new website at, which went live before he had even finished taking the Oath of Office.  Second:  The star-studded "Neighborhood Ball," hosted by ABC, which kicked off the string of events he and Michelle danced at.  These two events stood out to me because they highlight two "interest groups" among which Obama has strong support;  the wired world of the internet, and the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

Barack Obama ran what is widely hailed as the most technology-savvy campaign in history.  With the small but passionate exception of Ron Paul supporters, the "internets" as a whole loved him for it, and looked forward to a presidency that understands and embraces new technology.  So far, signs that Change has come to the members of the executive branch are good.  The new White House website is every bit as fancy as the Obama team's previous online works, and having a weekly video podcast of sorts sounds like a great way to engage the populace.  Later in the week, we heard about the complaints staffers have been voicing over the archaic I.T. infrastructure in the White House - a lament all to familiar to any geek who has found themselves thrust into the bureaucratic technology morass that typifies most established institutions (50 meg mailbox quota for Syracuse students' e-mail, anyone?).  Heck, even the fact that the president fought to keep his Blackberry shows that he's a new breed of president - one who "gets" technology.  Let the Tubes rejoice!

However, the "Neighborhood Ball" I saw tuesday night on ABC demonstrates Obama's clout with another group: the entertainment industry.  During the campaign, one of the first widely-talked-about attack ads from McCain was directed at Obamas "celebrity" appeal.  His life up to this point reads like an Oscar-winning screenplay, and like most Democratic candidates, he had his fair share of supporters among the Hollywood elite.  That ABC would get together with chart-topping recording artists to throw the first of his presidential balls further proves Obama's appeal among the entertainment industry,

Clearly, both groups are looking forward to a plethora of wonderful changes our new President will bring.

One problem though:  These two groups are currently at war.

Media piracy is one of, if not the biggest issue facing the content creators in the film, television, and music businesses.  It is also at the forefront of the freedom-loving culture of the Internet.  Media companies view tech-savvy consumers as criminal scum, and brilliant programmers worldwide take pride in cracking every new protection scheme the entertainment industry can come up with, either out of belief, necessity, or (I suspect most of the time now) out of sheer spite.

In the last decade, this issue has become the defining conflict for both sides, and both no doubt would like to look to Obama as their savior.  I'm very curious as to how he will navigate these waters, not least of which because I often find myself straddling the same fence.

No comments: