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Why Johnny can’t Google

One issue that’s been percolating in the Presidential election is the fact that John McCain isn’t an Internet user. For example, here’s former John Edwards blogger Tracy Russo questioning McCain aide Mark Soohoo yesterday on the subject.

The original event that led people to start questioning the idea of having an Internet-illiterate President was McCain’s statement on this video from a few months ago that he doesn’t use a computer. Matthew Yglesias weighed in on this matter today.

It’s tempting to apply George W. Bush’s famous soft bigotry of low expectations and assume that McCain’s an old guy, and old guys just aren’t computer users. However, I have an anecdote that should undermine that assumption.

Back in 1997 I worked for an IT consulting firm that built Web sites, set up email systems, designed networks, and so forth. One of our clients was the George Bush Presidential library in College Station, Texas. The company was responsible for setting up the LAN for the library, getting email up and running, and so forth. One of the tasks on that project was setting up email accounts for President Bush and his friends (folks like Brent Scowcroft), generating PGP keys, and teaching them how to use them.

President Bush has a good 12 years on John McCain, and he had his own laptop, email account, and PGP key ten years ago. He even had his own humorous domain name, which I won’t divulge for the sake of the former President’s privacy. (I checked it out in whois not long ago and he’s still the owner.)

If President Bush was handling his own email a decade ago even though he has staffers who can take care of that sort of thing for him, why isn’t John McCain doing it now? I find it troubling when anyone isn’t be curious enough about this whole Internet thing to try it out in this day and age. It’s kind of a big deal.

6 Comments

  1. By such stilted logic I giss Larry or Sergey should be Prez.? If that’s your metric, maybe we should use the subscriber list to Macworld to vet candidates.

    No … better yet, let’s let SAG decide (but only after they shut down Hollywood. Again). And shucks, even Puffy Combs tells me I’m gonna die, if I don’t vote Obama.

    Leadership comes in many forms. Hopefully such will be the deciding factor come November 4.

  2. Elmo, sure internet use alone should not decide anything. But when you have someone who is asking for a complex, difficult and increasingly technologically dependent job as the Presidency of the US, then does it not scare you that he’s not curious enough about the single biggest, most pervasive and fundamental technology of the current age?

    Does eight years of a complete lack of intellectual rigour and curiousity from the current holder of that office not demonstrate, clearly, the costs to be born from such a lack?

    What if he said “oh, I can’t read, I have my aides read to me, I’m busy with more important things than mere reading and writing.”

  3. What if he said “oh, I can’t read, I have my aides read to me, I’m busy with more important things than mere reading and writing.”

    Then he would have won the 2000 Republican primary.

  4. It’s a pink elephant Mark, even savants can surf the web, play video games etc.. Technology now changes so fast, and of course as per Toffler, ever faster. Proficiency in use of computer, is a skill that won’t be required for/by anyone …. a few more years from now.

    By simple virtue of my surfing the net, or even just using a pooter, does not make me smarter. Now what one does with that info, how one processes it, analyzes it? The platform the info is delivered on, does not change the basic issues of this election.

    Economy/petroleum. And global war (the rise of militant radical Islam). Aren’t going to change because Barry peeks at Kos, and Johnnie Mac doesn’t peruse Drudge.

    Technology is not a cure, nor panacea for all. And frankly, I honestly believe you’d be more than a little surprised at the real world IQ of the current Prez. If you allowed yourself to put down the partisan pom poms for a whole second [I laughed at Dubya (and loudly). Unable to believe it when he first made it out of the primaries (back in da day, when I too was a lib].

    Neither candidate is going to make the other half of the electorate happy (or of course ecstatic). If Barry’s iPod playlist, gives some a reason to vote for him, wonnnerful.

    Myself though, I don’t think Obama a rube or unsophisticate, because he doesn’t spin vinyl (like myself). In a time of epic turmoil, who is hippest, slickest, coolest, or most wired (or who Scarlett Johansson has a crush on). Matters little.

    The morning of January 21, 2009. When the winner gets out of bed, and actually goes to work. Will we truly know.

    Signed, what’s My Space?

  5. I know a year after Inauguration, this seems irrelevant, but this struck a chord for me.

    Why didn’t McCain seem to be embarrassed, or say that he planned to learn? It’s not just that he doesn’t use (or doesn’t like) computers/the internet, it’s that he doesn’t seem even to want to – and apparently doesn’t know he’s expected to, either.

    I hate to use an analogy, but what if, say, Taft had said he did not use, and had no interest in using, the telephone? (Or considering how common computers are now, it would probably be more accurate to say Wilson or Harding or Coolidge.) Computers, and the internet, are useful, even just for email, and there is no equivalent substitute. Anyone not using them is short at tool, which I don’t find trivial.

  6. And, p.s., Mark didn’t say McCain isn’t smart, he said he lacks curiosity. Bush, on the other hand, is famously “not smart”, but to use “the Google” you do have to be at least smart enough to articulate what you’re searching for.

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