MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
President Obama finally convinced the Secret Service to let him keep his BlackBerry, with a lot of strings attached. Only a tiny group of friends and staff will have his email address. Commentator David Shipley is the co-author of a handbook for email users. It's basically a "Strunk and White" for the Web. He suggests some more rules for the new emailing president.
Mr. DAVID SHIPLEY (Author of "SEND: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better"; Opinion-Editor Page Editor of "The New York Times"): So there's been a lot of change in Washington - historic events. We now have a president with a BlackBerry. It's been called BlackBerry One. I'd like to call it something else - a teachable moment. Given those Inaugural crowds, it's pretty safe to say that lots of people admire President Obama. We're trying to heed his example. We're volunteering, we're befriending people whose views may differ from our own. We're renewing our commitment to pick-up basketball.
That's a lot, but perhaps the president can set one more example for us to follow and lead us out of BlackBerry temptation. This is not a comment on the previous administration, but the last eight years did see the growth of a certain digital lawlessness. With BlackBerrys, Treos, iPhones and the like, we learned that we could email anywhere, anytime, and we did. People pulled out their BlackBerrys at weddings, parent-teacher conferences, school plays, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, funerals. We BlackBerryed while we walked. We BlackBerryed while we talked.
What can Mr. Obama do to be an electronic role model? Here are a few tips.
No White House photos of you emailing while someone is talking. You know the crossword puzzle rule? Those situations where it would be rude or inappropriate to do a crossword? Well, it would probably rude or inappropriate to use a BlackBerry, too.
Also, make it clear you're writing from a hand-held. Keep the disclaimer in. It helps people to know that you're typing with your thumbs. Otherwise, they might be offended when you respond to their 20-page, 50-point budget plan with an "OK" or a "Nope."
And keep in mind, your BlackBerry is not a Game Boy. Too often, we use our hand-helds to kill time. You're in the limo heading to Andrew's Air Force Base, you don't have anything to read, so you send an email. Remember, every email you send is a message someone has to read and respond to.
And even though it's really easy to do this with a BlackBerry, you don't want to be emailing at 4 a.m. after that 3 a.m. phone call. If you do, people will stay up all night because they think you expect them to. Plus, lack of sleep could interfere with their decision-making skills.
For many of us, it's the dream of a lifetime to be in the presence of a president. The encounter is something we treasure forever. To have you pull out your hand-held the minute we step in the Oval Office or try to share a word or two would be soul-crushing.
Actually, Mr. President, maybe the most important BlackBerry example you can set is to not use it. Show us that you can put that thing away, turn it off. Lock it in its holster. Think about it. What a lesson for the rest of us if the leader of the free world can power-down his BlackBerry and have a conversation - take a moment for genuine human connection. Well then, so can we.
NORRIS: David Shipley is the Op-Ed page editor for "The New York Times." He's also the co-author of "Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better."
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