The first thing you do when you get a new gadget — a computer, a camera, a smartphone — is you go through it, and you set your preferences. You set it up the way you like.
On Facebook, on Twitter, it’s all about you — your photos, your friends, information the way you like it. Hundreds of millions of users, all uploading and linking and connecting data, somehow get sorted right and served by these really popular services. And don’t get me started on YouTube.
My bank lets me customize my user page. I’ve tuned gmail and .mac to sort out the junk. Amazon knows what I like and makes often useful suggestions. It also keeps track of my most used addresses, which makes gift-giving simple. Ricochet lets you set up a profile and follow folks you like. Pandora listens to the kinds of music you like, then delivers music that, amazingly, fits your taste.
One definition of a “modern” product, it seems to me, is how personal and customizable it is.
So what’s been bugging me lately, when I think about the Obama administration, is how old it seems. How elderly and behind the times. Each policy and initiative seems like a page from the lost Mondale Administration: giant, behemoth one-size-fits-all health care; labor union giveaways; student loan power grabs — it all seems so yesterday. Which is weird, of course, because we’ve been told over and over again by journalists and pundits (who themselves seem old, used up, irrelevant, and tired) that this is a young! bright! modern! administration.
So why does it seem so behind the times? So corpulent? Why does every policy prescription read like something from the 1970’s?
I’m old enough to remember an old man running for president (Reagan) who turned to a younger man who was president at the time (Carter) and killing him in a debate with this line: “There you go again.” Because it captured the tired, rote, big-government, top-down, one-way thinking of the left, circa 1980.
And now, circa 2010.
Which may be why a lot of politicians, Republican and Democrat, are nervous about November 2010, and really nervous about November 2012. Because that’s when the people set their preferences.