A More Perfect User: White House Rhetoric about Technology and Anxieties about Race, Gender, and Class

Based on interviews with White House insiders, archival research, and a trove of digital data, Elizabeth Losh's new book Selfie Democracy examines tech policy, digital literacy and attitudes about data and democracy. In addition to revealing important insights about the social media and smart phone practices of the most significant actors in recent American politics—Barack Obama and Donald Trump as presidents and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden as presidential candidates—. Such powerful political leaders often reinforce certain cultural assumptions about the power of the smartphone that perpetuate myths about connection, transparency, participation, and access. These myths are further amplified in rhetoric borrowed from Silicon Valley about how these technologies supposedly strengthen social bonds, enable exploration, encourage engagement, and overcome barriers. Obama might have been the anti-Trump and Trump the anti-Obama, but they both used mobile computing in ways that redefined the office of president. This talk exposes the unintended consequences of wireless technologies on political leadership and shows how seemingly benign mobile devices that hold out the promise of direct democracy can ultimately undermine representative forms of government, as the January 6th, 2021 storming of the US Capital by a selfie-taking mob livestreaming the insurrection demonstrates.

"The truth is always new." - Max Jacob

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