Evanston resident one of 5 to video chat with Obama

Audrey Cheng

Most people can’t say they have video chatted with President Barack Obama before. Now one Evanston mom can.

Christine Wolf, 43, was one of five Americans chosen to ask Obama a question Monday in a Google+ video chat called a “hangout.” Lasting about 50 minutes, the hangout was the first one publicly broadcast with the president.

Google+ reported receiving more than 130,000 question submissions, which all related to the State of the Union address on Jan. 24. Wolf said her question was prompted by the new children’s novel she is currently writing.

“One of the primary problems that happens to my main character involves their parents losing their jobs,” Wolf said. “I was in the middle of working on my book when I got this email, so I thought, ‘What could my character want to ask the president?’ And my question ended up being, ‘What would you say to the kids in America whose parents are struggling?'”

The Evanston resident said she decided to participate one week prior to the actual hangout. She received an email from the White House encouraging recipients to ask the president a question.

Wolf then uploaded a 25-second video clip of herself reading the question aloud.

On Jan. 26, Wolf received an email from Google indicating her question had been chosen. Three days later, Google technicians set up equipment in Wolf’s home, and the next day, she video chatted with Obama and four other Americans.

Wolf said there were many moments when she thought the opportunity was too good to be true.

“I had never been politically active before, so it was just stunning that somebody would just send an email and have this happen,” she said. “I felt like I won the lottery.”

Wolf said the experience increased her confidence in the political system and political leaders.

“(Obama’s) openness really makes me feel like he cared about people and was open to listening to people probably more than any other elected official I (have) ever seen,” she said. “It’s one thing to act that way, but this really made me feel like he means what he says.”

The amount of media coverage reflected the effectiveness of the video chat, Wolf said, adding she saw clips of herself on “The Daily Show” on Tuesday.

“Between all of the online bloggers and Facebook, I could not keep up with how many people were sending me links,” she said.

Reuel Rogers, a professor of political science at NU, said the video chat increases the odds of Obama’s appearing accessible to Americans.

“There’s a whole issue of whether he lacks the common touch, so this is where he can demonstrate he has that kind of touch without actually being out there to do retail politics and rubbing shoulders with people,” Rogers said.

However, he noted he is skeptical about the practical benefits of video chatting, particularly with a generation for whom media outreach is typical.

“I don’t know that in terms of motivating people to get involved in politics, it would have much of an effect,” he said. “So I don’t know that it would have those types of benefits.”

Rogers said Obama cannot replace traditional outreach strategies with virtual ones.

“This sort of one-shot deal over the Internet is not a substitute for actually talking to people consistently in that kind of context,” he said.

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Editor’s note: This article incorrectly spelled Wolf’s last name. The article has since been changed. The Daily regrets the error.