On January 21, 2013, I sat glued to my television and computer screens while watching the pomp and ceremony of Barack Obama’s 2nd inauguration. Of all the events, I was most drawn to the inaugural parade. For about an hour, I had the pleasure of catching a unique glimpse of the family’s down-to-earthiness. I also got a chance to completely geek out while watching Sasha, Malia, the First Lady, and President Obama use their cell phones.
Though this written observation is retrospective, I was able to look back at YouTube videos, Instagram and Twitter photos to notate the activities and approximate frequency with which the First Family used their mobile devices. It was fascinating to watch Sasha and Malia play on their phones. The Obama girls held their cell phone for most of the parade (which lasted roughly 1 hour long). The cell phone appeared to be an integral part of the family unit. I am reminded of Sharples, et al., discussion about cell phones in that they function as tools or “interactive agents in the process of coming to know” (pg. 7). It can be argued that this moment was a coming to know experience for the Obama girls as they snapped several pics of their mom and dad kissing, and took endearing photos of each other holding up the peace sign and making funny faces.
Perhaps the most profound takeaway from my observation is recognizing that this humanizing moment between members of the First Family, and as witnessed by the American public, was enabled by a mobile device. While watching the First Family on their cell phones, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were looking at, who they were texting, what apps were they using to edit photos, and also about the security involved in keeping the First Family and the girls’ data ‘safe and private’. I also thought about how fitting it is that Barack Obama is the first wired president in history of the United States. Since 2008, Obama’s campaign has been credited with successfully using social and mobile media for fundraising and organizing. The Obama administration prides itself on connecting with Americans using Twitter, Reddit, and Google Hangout.
While there’s much to celebrate about this unique moment in techno-history, I also wonder about the cultural politics of the First Family and mobile technology. So much is to be said for the relationship between technology and its presence in the lives of vulnerable populations, particularly poor people, young girls, and people of color. The visual representation of the First Family using their cell phones illuminates conversations about what, in fact, it means for a prominent Black family with two adolescent girls to engage with mobile technology during an historical and digitally social moment. There’s much to be analyzed.
Sharples, M., Taylor, J., Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a theory of mobile learning. University of Birmingham. UK.