Mobile apps give federal agencies chance to not always be so serious


Washington, D.C. is a serious place. Or at least, a self-important one. And in this the executive branch is probably the most at fault--anytime it speaks, it knows its audience is potentially the entire nation and much of the rest of the world.

As a result, it tends to say things very, very seriously. (Cf. Ronald Reagan's 1984 joke that he would start bombing the Soviet Union in 5 minutes, which didn't go over too well with the Soviets.)

But, the authoritative, carefully parsed tone of official communications nonetheless looks increasingly out of place in the new contexts in which the federal government appears. Social media and mobile apps for example--which is why it's nice to give the Transportation Security Administration, of all the unlikely agencies, kudos for attempting to loosen up. Its MyTSA app was built with a sense of humor in mind, said Lynn Dean, a TSA senior advisor, while speaking recently at a Washington, D.C. conference on mobility.

When someone checks to see if they can bring a bomb on board a plane, the app says "Not permitted. You didn't really want to know if you could bring a bomb on a plane," but then offers a series of packing tips on how to get through security checkpoints faster.

Stephen Colbert it isn't, but the attitude behind it is laudable; it knows that the federal government can modulate its tone according to the context of a query and switch to a lighter manner in the right places. After all, no real terrorist will actually ask MyTSA if they can bring a bomb online. Let's see if other government agencies can act similarly, and in a greater number of circumstances. - Dave