Why doesn't the Oval Office have a computer?
January 19, 2005 1:36 PM   Subscribe

A question, delivered by proxy: Why isn't there a computer on the desk in the Oval Office? (This isn't W. bashing. We think he's cute, and none of the other US presidents had one either.)
posted by nobody to Computers & Internet (25 answers total)
The idea that a guy who has to move around so much would have a computer that is fixed in one place is silly. Obviously, he uses a laptop. And I'm sure sometimes he sits it down on the desk in the Oval Office.

People might be misoverestimating the amount of time the President spends in the Oval Office.
posted by kindall at 1:39 PM on January 19, 2005

Is work actually done in the Oval Office? Seriously, I thought it had become sort of a ceremonial location.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:40 PM on January 19, 2005

Everything he does is filtered. He wouldn't be reading his own e-mail, answering his own phone, or writing his own proposals. My impressions from recent presidencies are that the Prez mostly has meetings; has phone conversations; takes briefings; reads briefings; and delegates projects.
posted by Miko at 1:43 PM on January 19, 2005

He doesn't have the time, inclanation, or need to use a computer. His staff does that. If he uses a computer for entertainment or other personal reasons, it wouldn't be in the oval office.

Many very high-level business and government people don't use a computer, either. There might be one on the desk, but that doesn't mean it does anything.

On preview, exactly what Miko just said.
posted by bh at 1:48 PM on January 19, 2005

I bet he's got one, though, at his disposal. When he was the governor, he was known for playing computer solitaire.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:04 PM on January 19, 2005

I would bet if you asked every MeFi user that worked in a corporate environment if the CEO has a computer on his or her desk, the answer would be a surprising amount of "no".

I believe when people rise to prominence they have a lot of big stuff to do, and reading/managing email or using computer applications of other sorts seems like a waste.

Think about it, on a per minute basis, the most powerful in business and politics are getting paid thousands of dollars and they're responsible for billions of dollars, the economy, and/or our safety, so every minute wasted waiting for a program to load or new mail to arrive is a minute not spent doing real work.
posted by mathowie at 2:05 PM on January 19, 2005

I agree with the above posts, but I wonder also if it's not simply an aesthetic thing. You don't want the desk in the Oval Office to look... cluttered.
posted by Specklet at 2:28 PM on January 19, 2005

I typically think of "thousands of dollars" as "less than ten thousand". Inflated CEO salaries be damned - I hope they're making more than that.

Seriously though - that doesn't say much for how reliable or useful computers are for doing "real work".

It also reminds me of the recent bit on The Daily Show about how W. is living in the Truman Show - everything is filtered, and even the "public town hall" meetings are pre-sorted for supporters.
posted by Caviar at 2:34 PM on January 19, 2005

The Presidential computer runs on InternOS: Voice activated, fully interactive. Comes complete with Word/legal pad, Excel/calculator, and Photoshop/pencil. Last year's model had porn, but we replaced that with solitaire.
posted by Caviar at 2:39 PM on January 19, 2005

posted by AlexReynolds at 2:40 PM on January 19, 2005

I would totally have a 30" Cinema Display on my Oval Office desk. Just to make all of the other presidents jealous.
posted by waldo at 2:46 PM on January 19, 2005

Great question and great answers.
posted by grouse at 2:54 PM on January 19, 2005

More importantly, why isn't there a cash register in Congress?

posted by fleacircus at 3:01 PM on January 19, 2005

So that explains the internets ...
posted by Alt F4 at 3:04 PM on January 19, 2005

Personally I'm waiting for the day when the news media mentions the "Presidential Nintendo" (or PlayStation or Xbox or whatever your gaming pleasure is).
posted by Servo5678 at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2005

I agree with most of what's been said here - another supporting bit of information on Clinton's email output.
posted by rorycberger at 3:47 PM on January 19, 2005

The library has that many e-mails? That's amazing. To think we can study that many pieces of information coming through the most important house in the nation...boggles me.

Granted, a lot of the cool stuff will be redacted, but still, there's an academic voyeuristic thrill to having that kind of vast day-to-day record.
posted by NickDouglas at 4:12 PM on January 19, 2005

I recall learning during L'Affair Monica that the President has a private office adjacent to the Oval Office. Presumably if/when the President does do "office" work (and I agree he probably does little of it), that's where he does it.

I mean, there are no filing cabinets, or Dilbert cartoons, in the Oval Office either. It's probably used for meetings and ceremonial occasions.
posted by bac at 5:30 PM on January 19, 2005

I think it's interesting that it's seen as normal for the Mighty Exec (whether W. or some CEO) to have a telephone but not a computer. (I assume the reason is that computers still have a lingering association with typewriters, and no one who can afford a secretary would ever do their own typing, of course!)
posted by hattifattener at 6:02 PM on January 19, 2005

Maybe there's an opportunity there for Scoble to sell them some tablet PCs.
posted by Caviar at 8:34 PM on January 19, 2005

So that explains the internets ...

My theory is that Bush is picking up on "the internets" as in "dot com stocks", but I like naxosaxur and Manjusri's answer as well.

So how did W. fill his days? According to a June profile in Texas Monthly: "He has always been a creature of routine.... He gets to his Capitol office by eight in the morning; takes private time from eleven-forty to one-thirty, when he runs three to five miles at the University of Texas track at a pace of seven and a half minutes a mile, and afterward might play a little video golf or computer solitaire until three...." -- TNR

I can't find a link at this point, but I vaguely recall the question about his use of a computer coming up at some point early in his term, perhaps before the inauguration. He was an e-mail user in Texas, but they were distinctly aware of the problems that Oliver North and, later, the Clinton administration had with e-mail, and the Bush team decided that he would just no longer use it, because of the political or legal liability associated with a misdirected or archived message.

At some level, he may still use it -- albeit in a very attenuated form, probably filtered through his staff. Queen Elizabeth tried e-mail, reportedly because of Bush. It's not clear whether he e-mailed her, though (what a nothing missive that would be).
posted by dhartung at 9:22 PM on January 19, 2005

Are you totally sure there isn't one there? I've seen some pretty fancy desk set-ups involving lots of wood inlays leaving just a flat screen showing on the desk, and it would be pretty easy to rig that to be hidden or available as desired.

I bet he's got one, though, at his disposal. When he was the governor, he was known for playing computer solitaire.

Now he's president he probably has a little games room set-up next to his office, possibly where he also goes for nap time?
posted by biffa at 4:04 AM on January 20, 2005

I'm still waiting for the first President to hang up one of those posters with the dangling kitten that says "Hang In There!"

Side question- does anyone know what kind of network they run there? Please tell me it's not Windows...
posted by mkultra at 7:16 AM on January 20, 2005

I mean, there are no filing cabinets, or Dilbert cartoons, in the Oval Office either.

No, those are all out in the Oval Cubicles.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 8:30 AM on January 20, 2005

From: president@whitehouse.gov
To: regina-dei-gratis@royal.co.uk

Subject: I send you this file to have your advice
posted by Captain_Tenille at 10:13 AM on January 20, 2005

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