Mr. President, please surrender your BlackBerry.
Those are six words President-elect Obama is dreading but expecting to hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.
For years, like legions of other on-the-move professionals, Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter throughout his campaign.
But before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about keeping e-mail secure, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A final decision has not been made on whether he could go against precedent to become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.
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For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first president to do so.
Obama has not sent a farewell dispatch from the personal e-mail account he uses — he has not changed his address in years — but friends say the frequency of correspondence has diminished.
A year ago, when many Democratic contributors and other observers were worried about his prospects against Sen. Hillary Clinton, they reached out to him directly. Obama had changed his cell phone number, so e-mail remained the most reliable way of communicating directly with him.
“His BlackBerry was constantly crackling with e-mails,” said David Axelrod, the campaign's chief strategist. “People were generous with their advice — much of it conflicting.”
Obama is the second president to grapple with the idea of this self-imposed isolation. Three days before his first inauguration, George W. Bush sent a message to 42 friends and relatives that explained his predicament.
“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace,” Bush wrote from his old address, G94B@aol.com. “This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.”
But in the interceding eight years, as BlackBerrys have become ubiquitous, the volume of e-mail has multiplied and the role of technology has matured. Obama used e-mail to stay in touch with friends from the lonely confines of the road, often sending messages like “Sox!” when the Chicago White Sox won a game.