To: President-elect Barack Obama
From: A concerned citizen
Re: Your BlackBerry
Word on the street is you’re negotiating with the Secret Service to keep your BlackBerry come Jan. 20. I applaud your moxie. And I understand. Really, I do. I know how much you love that little gizmo; love its soft, flickering light, its ergonomic thumb wheel, its tremendous power (soft power, of course) that makes you feel so connected, so in touch, so outside the bubble.
But, please, I beg of you, don’t do it. Lose the BlackBerry, Mr. President-elect. Not only for the sake of your personal security but for the sake of the nation. You see, having a BlackBerry strapped to your hip will make you a worse president, not a better one.
You’ve seen the studies. People who multitask end up performing each task a bit more poorly. So, although it’s true we need a president who can juggle several issues at once, we don’t need a president who falls prey to “continuous partial attention.” That’s when, in the words of Microsoft executive Linda Stone, “we constantly scan for opportunities — activities or people — in any given moment. With every opportunity we ask, ‘What can I gain here?’”
That is no way to live a life, let alone run a nation.
“But,” you say, “what about the dreaded bubble? A president could suffocate in there.” True, but the BlackBerry is not the solution. Besides, there are times when presidents need to dive deeper inside the bubble, shut out the advisers and pollsters — and yes, even the voters — and get in touch with their inner Lincoln, who, by the way, did just fine without a BlackBerry. So did JFK. Indeed, who knows how the Cuban missile crisis might have turned out had Kennedy been nervously thumbing his BlackBerry instead of pacing the Oval Office in deep thought.
So, ditch the BlackBerry, and while you’re at it, ditch e-mail altogether. You don’t want an in-box brimming with snippy back-and-forths among your “team of rivals.” It would only make you want to step in and make peace — an honorable impulse, sure, but one that will eat up a lot of your precious time. When that phone call comes at 3 a.m., you should be sound asleep, not hunched in front of a computer screen firing off just one more e-mail.
Look, I know that your love of your BlackBerry puts you in sync with the American people and their addiction to mobile technology. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found that 51 percent of those surveyed said it would be very hard to give up their cell phones. (The other 49 percent are in denial.)
This is where you need to break with the American people and go it alone. It won’t be easy. I know. The other day my iPhone went on the blink and I found myself — for nearly four hours! — in a strange and terrifying place. I was disconnected, out of touch. No bars. The classic stages of grief quickly settled in. First, denial. (No, there must be a mistake. I’ll try that call again, and again.) Anger. (It’s my wife’s fault! I bet she forgot to pay the bill!) Bargaining. (Please God, let me send just one e-mail and I promise never to bad-mouth my wife again.) And finally: acceptance. (Actually, I never quite made it to acceptance.)
But you’re better than me. You can quit the CrackBerry habit. After all, you quit smoking. You did quit, didn’t you?
So, with all due respect, Mr. President-elect, lose the BlackBerry and give the highest office in the land your continuous, full attention. The people will thank you. You just won’t read about it in an e-mail.
— Eric Weiner is the author of “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World,” due out in paperback in January.