Does Barack Obama's have "very high" "geek quotient" as chief technology officer -- a.k.a official White House geek -- Todd Park claimed today in a CNN interview? It is one thing to do things that one might consider geeky, it is quite another to score "very high" on the official geek scale. Park claims Obama deserves this "very high" ranking as a "a hugely enthusiastic proponent of the power of data, technology and innovation to advance national priorities," he told CNN's undefined. But being a real-deal geek involves a total embodiment of nerd-culture. Does Obama have that kind of dork-cred? Let's take a look.
In order to quantify Obama's geek quotient, we took a look at all the things that might give him geek-cred. In order to earn a "very high" on the geek-o-meter, at least half of Obama's nerd-activities would have to qualify as "High-Geeky." Let's see how he does.
Barack Obama likes geek pop-culture things like Star Wars and Star Trek. Real nerds are into pop-culture things that involve made-up worlds, some might say to escape the sad reality of their loser existence. Obama is totally into that kind of stuff. He participated in a light-sabre fight. In public. The event didn't even have anything at all to do with Star Wars. The White House was hosting an event supporting Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. There were fencing champions there. Yet, the president chose the Star Wars weapon as his implement. He is also into Star Trek. "I grew up on Star Trek. I believe in the final frontier," he said at a 2008 campaign event. And word is he collects SpiderMan and Conan the Barbarian comics.
Geek Quotient: High-Geeky. Star Wars is pretty mainstream nerd. According to The Atlantic's calculation, which takes into account both box office and critical success, it is the fourth most successful movie franchise of all time. That's a little too popular to qualify as geeky. But the consistency of his pop-culture taste -- that he also likes Star Trek and collects comic books, too -- pushes this up a notch to really very geeky.
Barack Obama can't make friends. Obama is aloof and uninterested in small talk, according to many reporters who've covered him. The New York Times' Maureen Dowd said she once saw Obama try to make small talk with reporters on his campaign plane, only to "literally back away" when they started asking tons of questions. The Washington Post's Scott Wilson says Obama has "no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise." You can see him at left, not making friends with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Geek Quotient: High-Geeky. This is the No. 1 geek trait: No friends. The entire point of being cool is to get invited to make everyone fall in love with you and do whatever you want. Benign social tyranny, basically. It's not just that Obama can't convince his friends where to go for dinner. Obama can't convince Congress to pass the laws he wants.
Barack Obama knows about the magical Internet. His campaign knew about Twitter and Facebook before the other guys. This election cycle he's on Instagram, Spotify and Michele Obama just joined Pinterest.
Geek Quotient: Regular-Geeky. Using social media doesn't make Obama a geek, but knowing about it before his peers does. He's like that nerdy-kid who reads the blogs (see below) to see what Internet thing is on the verge of blowing up Being on the Internet does not make one a geek, knowing the nuances of it, does. He even gets that Pinterest is the one with all the ladies on it, getting Michelle to join.
Barack Obama wears dorky jeans with white sneakers. When Obama threw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game in 2009, he revealed to the whole world what a true nerd he really was. Look at the bagginess of the jeans. The unfashionable wash. The crease down the middle. The too-short length.
Geek Quotient: Regular-Geeky. This is the ultimate nerd uniform. The president looks like an eighth-grader who had a growth spurt. However, geekdom is more about personality than external adornments.
(Dad jeans detail.)
Barack Obama reads blogs. Obama reads blogs all day, like a nerd, instead of wasting time the way non-nerds do, which we've heard involves a lot of beer koozies, skiing, and sunglasses. Obama's staff can't peel him away from the Internet. Staffers wanted to scale back his BlackBerrying in 2008, when the New York Times reported, "his advisers wanting to keep him from reading blogs and news updates all day long, yet aides said he still seemed to hear about nearly everything in real time." Obama's blog-reading has come up several more times over the years, and in May, he outed himself as a reader of the No. 1 news site for cool nerds, The Atlantic Wire.
Geek Quotient: Low-Geeky. While reading things on the Internet is geeky, Obama deserves some leeway on this measure, since the president should know what the other nerds of the nation are talking about.
Barack Obama is an Apple fanboy. Obama prefers Apple products. His campaign used Macs and when he got to the White House and saw those stodgy PCs he was "famously disappointed," notes NetworkWorld's Yoni Heisler. He only uses a BlackBerry because the lame government makes him. And he got an iPad 2 before anyone else, direct from Steve Jobs himself. "Steve Jobs actually gave it to me, a little bit early. Yeah, it was cool. I got it directly from him," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulous.
Geek Quotient: Low-Geeky. Fanboys are huge nerd-faces, but Obama isn't a full fledged Apple-phile. He still uses that BlackBerry. And he once admitted not knowing how to use other gadgetry. "With iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," he told a group of students, before he got that iPad 2, we guess. Plus, having an inclination for Apple products, these days, is more the hip-kid thing to do.
Tallying up our score-card, only two of Obama's geeky behaviors scored high, leading us to conclude that Obama does not, in fact, score "very high" on the Geek quotient and that he is just run-of-the-mill geeky.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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