“I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear (Facebook status update here) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, (Twitter tweet here) and will to the best of my ability, (CNN blog and live streaming video) preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States (with the help of MySpace, Hulu, Yahoo Messenger, Jaiku and Plurk).
“So help me God.”
Social network that lifted Obama's campaign set to chronicle his inauguration
Obama on Tuesday will not simply take the oath to become the 44th president of the United States. He will serve as both emcee and epicenter of the most socially networked moment in political history.
“This is an historic event and the way we’ll experience it will be just as historic,” says Erica Schaefer. In perfect Generation Y style, the 20-year-old San Jose State University junior will watch the televised version of the ceremony at a local live-screening - but she’ll also be outfitted in full social-media regalia.
“I’ll have my BlackBerry and my mini-laptop, which will allow me to share my status online, and I’ll probably be on Twitter following @BarackObama, and on my Facebook chat section where I can talk about it live with hundreds of friends at the same time.
“I’ll be watching on many platforms,” says Schaefer, “and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Experts expect these tech tools will fundamentally transform this inauguration. Like November’s historic election, Tuesday’s ceremony “becomes a much more interactive and collaborative experience,” says Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt, which along with Twitter expects one of its busiest days ever.
“In the past, you could either be at the event or watch it on TV. Now you’ve got the option of seeing status updates and minute-by-minute photos from cell phones. So instead of just sharing the event in real time, you can share your hopes and dreams and fears of what’s happening.”
With the smart-phone masses grabbing live streaming video from sites like Mountain View, Calif.-based Ustream.TV, and even the farmer in rural India able to “follow” other viewers around the globe through micro-blogging vehicles like Twitter, that Web site’s co-founder, Biz Stone, says we can expect “the first two- or even three-screen” inauguration, “as people will be as glued to TV as they are to CNN.com, Twitter or Facebook.”
This collective inaugural experience is part of a natural progression. New-media expert Rodney Rumford, whose book on Twitter came out last week, calls Obama “the most tech-savvy president we’ve ever had. He understands new media in the same way Kennedy understood the power of television. Social media was central to the entire Obama groundswell.”
This week, says Rumford, “we’ll be able to look at this event through hundreds of different lenses - people sharing their experience and what it means to them, through photos and video, multimedia and text. And in the process, that changes the experience itself.”
The subject material helps, too. In what tech analyst Charlene Li calls “a perfect storm, having all this new technology while having the people using it focused on a cause they’re all so passionate about,” the event itself becomes almost secondary to a larger social phenomenon.
Li says that in the past “we’ve always approached these big events from a personal point of view, whether you’re a supporter of the incoming president or not. But now, thanks to all these tools connecting us, we’re approaching it from a social point of view.”
Which gets at the “why” behind social-networking. Part of it, say experts and devotees, is simply a fascination with the latest tech toy. There’s also a need many users feel to connect with others, to share the angst or exhilaration they feel as they ponder a global event like a change in America’s path.
Its boosters say social-networking technology can redefine something like an inauguration, unleashing and amplifying its inherent emotional power as it plays out in multiple manifestations. There is the real-world event itself, says Facebook’s Schnitt, and by using social media viewers become participants - “Sharing the experience online with people you know, for example, and then sharing it with people you don’t know.”
Increasingly, social-media channels are cross-pollinating, such as CNN.com’s embrace of Twitter, Facebook and embeddable videos that users can post on their own blogs or social-network pages. The result, says Rumford, is that “it’s no longer just me taking it all in on TV, but me taking it in through TV and online, then publishing back out to new people.
“Social media is becoming more of a fabric of our lives,” he says. “Everyone’s a publisher. You want to talk about democracy? With social media, everyone has relatively equal footing.”
Which is precisely what the Obama team says it’s trying to achieve.
“The goal for us is to make the inauguration as inclusive, accessible and open as possible,” says Andrew Bleeker, New Media Director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “This time, they’ll not just be watching the event - they’ll be participating in it.”
There is, of course, the danger of overload. After all, how will a camera-snapping, Blackberry-pecking, Facebook-updating Twitterer be able to actually savor Obama’s so-help-me-God moment?
“I do think there’s a chance some people will miss the emotional content” of the oath-taking, says San Jose, Calif., resident Kaitlyn Osborn-Brown, who won two inaugural tickets in a Facebook contest. “Anytime you’re texting you’re not paying complete attention to what’s going on in front of you.”
But even though Obama likes to say this inauguration “is about all of us,” Osborn-Brown says “ultimately this is his moment, even though we’re all sharing it with him. And I think people will be so captivated that they’ll hold off on texting and Twittering until he’s done.”