In the 2008 election, President Obama’s advisers talked of their boss’s belief that it was time for an “iPod government.” Obama, a technology addict who tools around on his iPad before going to sleep and who fought the U.S. Secret Service bureaucracy for the right to carry a smartphone, would be the first president truly at home in the Digital Age. That put him, he thought, in a unique position to pull the federal government into the Digital Age, too. His administration wouldn’t just be competent. It would be modern. And it would restore America’s faith that the public sector could do big things well.
Klein realizes that even if the site gets in working order soon, lasting damage has been done. As he put it, “reviving the idea that government can do big things right will be harder.”
Nevertheless, Obama’s vision of an iPod government in the Digital Age was hopelessly, fundamentally flawed from the get-go. Consider: the president would certainly not cherish an iPod that played, say, Sen. McCain’s musical tastes only, or an iPad allowing only Gov. Romney’s bookmarks and movie selections, no matter how technologically fantastic the machines themselves are. We like our iPods ultimately because it’s not a themPod.
That is to say, Obama’s vision pays no attention to “i” prefix and the like, which in the era of tablets and smartphones has become as ubiquitous as the “Mc” in a McDonald’s menu board. There are iPhones to iPads, MySpace, YouTube, and so forth. Technology that by its opening syllable proclaims highly individual, personalized services to suit the unique tastes of each individual customer.
Sleek, hand-held devices that give you your own personalized choices at the press of a button are the stuff of technophilic dreams. The imposition of the government’s only choice for you at the press of a button is the stuff of futuristic dystopian nightmares.
The Age of i-Products is the cardinal opposite of the thou-shalt-buy-this, one-size-fits-all-or-else-pay-a-fine, command-and-control, Digital Big Brother. The web site failure owes to the failure of big government trying to take over something best left to the private sector.
The “iPod government” fails because they’re trying to build it on a themPod framework.