Saturday, February 19, 2011

Toasting with Water

They say that it is bad luck to toast with water, but you wouldn't know it from this image of corporate jollity. This photograph, from the official White House Flickr stream, shows Obama toasting at a dinner in Silicon Valley at the home of John Doerr, a member of the White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board. To Obama's left is Apple's famous former CEO, Steve Jobs, who has appeared less hale and healthy in the tabloids of late, and to Obama's right is Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and not up for an Oscar this year, although his thespian Doppelgänger Jesse Eisenberg is.

Assembled around the dinner table are many other tech gurus: Carol Bartz, president and CEO of Yahoo!, John Chambers, CEO and chairman of Cisco Systems, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle, Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix, John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, Art Levinson, chairman and former CEO of Genentech, and Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google.

Although this photograph has circulated widely in the tech blogosphere, the other photo on the White House Flickr page from the dinner, which shows Obama in a tête-à-tête with Zuckerberg, has received much less attention. In the image, the visual rhetoric shows the President literally talking down to the social media entrepreneur, as what appears to be a blurry Eric Schmidt hovers in the foreground.

These shots are typical fundraising fare with a clear messages about inclusion and the president's social graph. In contrast, Michael Shaw at BagNews Notes argues that the visual rhetoric around Obama's "Sputnik moment," on view at the White House page for "Winning the Future," may be much more compelling to his constituents.

Obama's latest corporate tour features the Intel corporation, which Obama chose to be this week's site of his weekly online address. Of late, I've been writing a lot about the ways that Obama appears with computational media, and the ways that he is rarely shown facing a screen. Often computer monitors surround the president in scenes of what I have called "transparent mediation/mediated transparency" that draw attention to the apparatus of his online media presence, but when he is captured actually facing a screen (at his secretary's desktop machine or peering at his Commander in Chief Blackberry) we are signaled, by either the awkwardness of his body language at workstation or his use of mobile devices outside or in the dark, that such engagement with technology as an actual user is unpresidential.

(Thanks to Garnet Hertz for pointing out the photo.)

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