Technology's White House of Horrors

Staffers plucked from Obama's campaign operation, used to cutting-edge technology, are finding the White House to be a Mac-free technological museum. In other words, they're learning to work like the rest of America!

A Washington Post story tries to paint the tech environment Obama's staffers encountered as horrifyingly archaic:

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.

What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking....

One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony, only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes. The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce, assigned to only a few people in the West Wing. The team was left struggling to put closed captions on online videos.

Guess what? Outside the Manhattan media bubble and Silicon Valley's startup cube farms, this is how most Americans work. Want a Macintosh? Sorry, IT hasn't approved it. Oh, you need to use Facebook to interact with customers? Sorry, that site's blocked — and management suspects that "social media" is a buzzword which means "getting paid to waste time chatting with friends." Want to use some new blogging service? Fill out this three-page questionnaire about the site's security practices, please.

This is not a story about digital pioneers getting cast back into the Stone Age; it's about a privileged elite learning how the rest of the country has to work. Those "six-year-old versions of Microsoft software"? That must mean Windows XP. If you haven't noticed, most people still prefer XP over Microsoft's clunky, buggy, annoying new Vista. Here's a suggestion for the Obamans: Stop whining about the tools taxpayers have paid for, and get to work learning how to cope with what your employer gives you, just like the rest of us.

(Image via Futurenow/Robert Gorell)