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Should The Next President Use A Computer?

from the series-of-tubes dept

Much has been made of John McCain's status as a self-proclaimed "computer illiterate." Juxtaposed with his rival, the Blackberry-wielding, iPod-listening Barack Obama, McCain's inexperience with all things digital have raised concerns that he is out of touch with normal Americans. Although McCain is reportedly attempting to use computers more often, a bigger question remains unsolved: should the President of the United States use a computer?

Lee Gomes at the Wall Street Journal seems to think the best policy is to "avoid computers." Among such significant insights as any computer should remain outside the Oval Office "since it wouldn't match the furniture," is a recommendation that the President be limited to 20 minutes of computer time "to keep up with the common folk" by reading blogs, playing Solitaire or watching YouTube. But, don't get carried away! "The severe time rationing is necessary because a computer, far from making you more productive, instead loads you down with things to do, and it's important for the machine to know who is boss."

It is slightly shocking that the WSJ would have you believe that computers are only good for keeping up-to-date on the latest cute cat videos (as long as you don't get bogged down in pop-ups -- which Gomes warns is how most computer users waste away their time). Of course the President should delegate menial tasks to staffers, but Gomes and others who think that technology is peripheral to the role of the Commander-in-Chief miss the point. Computer literacy isn't about "being in touch" with the "common folk," it is about understanding the foundation of the knowledge economy. The next administration will need to correctly address important policies with technology at their root, and if the leader doesn't understand the fundamental potential and differences of digital technology, the results will be much more catastrophic than wasting time deleting spam.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 3:46pm

    Ok, after reading the article, the writer is not saying that the president should not understand technology, nor should he push it aside. The author is trying to inject some humor into this situation. His point is, just as the president doesn't need to open and read his snail mail to understand how the postal system work, or to get the message that is on the paper, neither does he need to spend his day reading and responding to emails himself.
    He does make to valid points. Rather than read "techdirt" The president is actually in a position to call mike and invite him to the whitehouse to DISCUSS and LEARN about the issues first hand.
    etc...

     

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  2.  
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    Michael Whitetail, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 4:03pm

    Re:

    Thats a dangerous approach to things that a president will have to make policy on. As is, too many of these politicians take the word of their researchers and 'experts' as gospel ignoring the fact that all people have an agenda, and can and will use that kind of influence to further it.

    Its best for the top dog to have an idea of things himself, so that he can quantify and analyze different viewpoints against what he knows.

    While I understand that the president is severely time constrained during his term, coming to the job with some computer skills in the first place is not at all unreasonable. As if for nothing else, he owes it the people to at least try and fix some of the heinous laws enacted over the last 3 terms (Like the DMCA and copyright law for starters)

     

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  3.  
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    Zaphod, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 4:17pm

    Left vs. Right and the copyright issue...

    If McCain wins, we can expect more of the same as we have been getting, perhaps a little less oppressive as the right believes in the self determination of the individual.

    Conversely, if the left wins, we will see, for the short term, a slackening of the copyright laws... That is until the liberazi in Hollywood begin to demand stiffer penalties for their foisted work, and the eventual appropriating everything to the state and re-distributing of it to the people. Doesn't SEEM bad at first, but without rewards for performance, no one is going to write or perform anything good, and open source software will be appropriated just as harshly.

    Truth be told, on copyright law, the organized criminals in the **AAs and SBA, are playing both the left, and the right for fools. So I feel that McCain or Obama will be just as numb to the realities of the digital revolution, due to the special interests (**AAs/SBA) having their ear allready.

     

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  4.  
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    Steve, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 4:21pm

    So - I was prepared to consider McCain...

    ...but this revelation now makes me say ix ne. No way. An executive in 2009 who does not use a computer is an anachronism. Out of touch with reality. Roadkill on the "internet superhighway." (I can't believe I typed those words)

     

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  5.  
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    Evil Mike, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 4:22pm

    Computers to fit the decor.

    They're some great steam-punk computer designs which would fit right in with the furniture in the Whitehouse !

    the-ultimate-steampunk-computer
    category-gadgets

     

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  6.  
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    Edward McParland, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 4:24pm

    I think it should be mandatory...The President should have a "MYSPACE"....But how would anyone know??

     

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  7.  
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    ..., Aug 4th, 2008 @ 4:24pm

    If decorations is a problem, I'm sure Martha Stuart would be happy to offer some advice.

     

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  8.  
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    Colin Clifford, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 5:05pm

    McCain's Computer Illeteracy

    It is hard to believe that a candidate who accuses the other of being out of touch with the electorate needs help to get on the 'internets' so he can 'watch the Google.'

     

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  9.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 5:08pm

    Re: Left vs. Right and the copyright issue...

    Zaphod spouted:

    ...without rewards for performance, no one is going to write or perform anything good...

    Citation needed.

     

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  10.  
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    kemche, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 5:16pm

    Decoration?

    WTH? Why don't you just replace the furniture? Doesn't all the president do that when they get in to oval office?

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 5:27pm

    Re: Edward McParland

    I think it should be mandatory that people who believe such things can't vote, forever.

    Anyway, to answer the article's title's question- yes. Every politician should be forced to be tech savvy, read tech savvy news sites, and use p2p downloading if they want any copyrighted content until enough of them see the light and reform copyright laws.

     

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  12.  
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    TRD, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 5:30pm

    When Clinton was in office, he boasted that he did not know how to send an email, and that he had to get Chelsea to do it. The press giggled and thought that was sooo charming. I've been a programmer since the early 90s, but that doesn't make me any more qualified to be President than McCain or Obama. I'd like to think that the next Commander in Chief is better able to solve World problems.... than how to make butterfly cursors dance on his MySpace page, or waste time on iTunes. I knew this election was a joke when they actually took questions from liberal YouTube morons for debates. The best Presidents in History did their job without the technology we have. As long as the new Prez knows who to put in the right cabinet positions, I don't care if he can pair his bluetooth with his G3. This is not news... even in a humorous way.

     

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  13.  
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    Michael Whitetail, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 6:12pm

    Re:

    I guess this needs to be reiterated:

    "That's a dangerous approach to things that a president will have to make policy on. As is, too many of these politicians take the word of their researchers and 'experts' as gospel ignoring the fact that all people have an agenda, and can and will use that kind of influence to further it."

    The president needs to be informed and knowledgeable about the fundamentals of how the economy operates, and the modern, global economy is completely electronic. How can the man make (good) policy if he doesn't know the his ass from the Caps Lock key?

    As for his Cabinet positions, get real! We as a country do not need, and really cannot afford more corrupted politicians hoisting their bought-and-paid-for-by-corporate-amerika agenda's on us. thats how we got into this mess with the DMCA, ATCA, COPA, and other very dangerous, and tax-revenue wasting legislation.

     

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  14.  
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    Dan, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 6:13pm

    Re: Decoration?

    Not really. That's some historical furniture in there.

     

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  15.  
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    Dan, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 6:15pm

    Aide: "Sir, Iran has launched a nuclear strike against us!"
    POTUS: "Look, kitties."

     

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  16.  
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    Eric (profile), Aug 4th, 2008 @ 6:33pm

    Imagine instead...

    that the question is "Should the President know how to drive a car?" After all, he will probably never do so as long as he is President, so what's the big deal?

    Now imagine the average American's reaction... considering the price of gasoline, the state of the US road system, and the general "out of touch-ness" such an idea implies.

    Eric

     

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  17.  
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    Jim, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 7:13pm

    duh!

    It just shows how out of touch the Republicans really are when McCain claims he is illiterate -- correction, computer illiterate. Actually, I think they are all out of touch with this fine community we call the United States. How in the world will they ever be able to help the citizens of this country if they have no idea what we are about, what we do, how we shop, where we shop, how we stay in touch with the rest of the world, and where many of us now make our living. Perhaps no of them have any intentions for anyone other than themselves.

     

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  18.  
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    david, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 7:25pm

    Not out of touch...just out of date

    Senator McCain is probably as "in touch" with the average American as any politician. But, what people are afraid to say is.... Senator McCain is an old man and thinks like an old man. He is "out of date"... that is, his ideas are more suitable for the 1970's or 1980's when he was only middle aged.

     

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  19.  
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    Aten Imago, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 7:57pm

    21st Century Presidents

    "Computer literacy isn't about "being in touch" with the "common folk," it is about understanding the foundation of the knowledge economy. The next administration will need to correctly address important policies with technology at their root, and if the leader doesn't understand the fundamental potential and differences of digital technology, the results will be much more catastrophic than wasting time deleting spam."

    That's the sincle most astute observation on the matter that I've read to date.
    I've often wondered how different the current President's perception of the world might have been if he'd bothered to look around at it.I have it on good authority that GWBush is inept at so mundane a device as a pocket calculator- leave alone a PC.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 10:21pm

    Economy and Technology

    Why do so many of you feel that to not understand how to use a computer is to not understand the global economy?

    I can read Techdirt, but how does that enable me to better decide how to answer to the demands of Venezuela? I can write a wiki page, but I don't think I could write, or even read over, a bill for a comprehensive corporate tax reform.

    I would love a job where I don't need to use a computer, I'd much rather read through a sheaf of papers, or have someone summarize them for me.

     

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  21.  
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    Kent, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 10:26pm

    Re: 21st Century Presidents

    I second Aten's opinion

     

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  22.  
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    Dan, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 11:27pm

    No to Barney Rubble

    We need someone that understands tech so as to make informed policy decisions. If McCain asks his resident nerd for a lookup on a particular subject he will get precisely that result, not neighboring search hits or associated links. approximate associated information fills in the background. Would you like him to decide net neutrality based on an AT&T white paper alone? I am 67 yrs old and understand parallel processing, he should be able to get along without a "blackberry girl".

     

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  23.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 5th, 2008 @ 12:46am

    I saw this comment on another forum, thought it bears repeating (I'm paraphrasing here):

    McCain saying he doesn't know how to use a computer is like Kennedy not knowing how to use a TV or a telephone. Sure, it's possible to get the job done in some way without knowing those things, but how could he know or relate to the daily lives of his citizens?

    If McCain became president, he would be passing policies and making decisions without any direct knowledge of how modern business, commerce, or communication works. That's unacceptable.

     

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  24.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 5th, 2008 @ 12:59am

    Re:

    Strawman - in the 90s, email was a brand new technology for most people, and businesses were dipping their toes into the water. Had the internet not been such a revolutionary force, it may not have become important before Clinton ended his second term in office.

    Your statement that "he best Presidents in History did their job without the technology we have." is also utterly irrelevant. They didn't have *our* technology, but they were most certainly aware of the technology used by the majority of their citizens in the time they lived.

    Businesses and ordinary citizens depend on computer technology for day-to-day life. It is not acceptable for a US president to be totally out of touch with a 30 year old piece of technology that the business, commerce, communication, finances, even education of his citizens depends on. He cannot possibly make effective decisions if he is.

    "I'd like to think that the next Commander in Chief is better able to solve World problems.... than how to make butterfly cursors dance on his MySpace page, or waste time on iTunes."

    I'd like to think that the next Commander In Chief knows how to use an office package, send and receive email, balance figures electronically, view world events as reported from the eyes of his enemies and opponents, and understand how modern business works. That *would* make him better able to solve world problems.

     

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  25.  
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    Jake, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 1:28am

    http://techdirt.com/articles/20080320/201151608.shtml suggested that Gomes doesn't know his arse from his Caps Lock key either, and is also a complete tosser, but he's got a point about the furniture; that's a beautiful antique desk and a desktop PC would look entirely wrong on it.

     

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  26.  
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    Ferin (profile), Aug 5th, 2008 @ 5:08am

    IDK, my BFF PM Brown?

    The next president ought to have blog. Just because I want to see how many post get tagged with "irritated, red button" every day.

     

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  27.  
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    Colin, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 5:28am

    Pelosi si illiterate too

    I just read in a book called "Pennsylvania Avenue" that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not carry a BB or use a computer. Her Communications Director must communicate through intermediaries when they're not in the same place. Crazy. Link to book

     

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  28.  
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    Sean, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 6:41am

    Pinch of salt

    McCain is just racking up more points as a straight-talking old-dude (i.e. someone your mom and pop would trust). The guy flew combat missions in fighter jets for pete's sake, you think any numnuts can do that, with or without several hundred hours of MS Flight Sim? His computer illiteracy (if it exists) is a matter of choice and priority, not an example of his out-of-touchness.
    My mum is very computer literate - hotmail, ebay, google and my cellphone number is all she needs. Do you think she's a great grasp of the knowledge based economy? She still tells her friends "my son does something with computers..."

     

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  29.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 5th, 2008 @ 7:45am

    Re: Pinch of salt

    Luckily, your Mum's not running to be US President. Put it this way - she knows what she needs to know at the moment, and that's fine. However, what if she was put into a position where she'd need to make an important decision, and the only way that decision could be made correctly is by knowing exactly what your job entails? She probably wouldn't make the right decision.

    McCain flew many years ago, before computers were as pervasive as they are now in jets so he wouldn't necessarily have been exposed to them. Even if he was, it's now an antiquated and highly specialised technology with little resemblance to the modern PC. And yes, the illiteracy is most likely a choice but that reflects badly on him. How can a man run the country properly without understanding one of the basic methods by which business is conducted today?

     

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  30.  
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    Nate Peterson, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 9:44am

    Re: Re: Pinch of salt

    >>How can a man run the country properly without
    >>understanding one of the basic methods by which business
    >>is conducted today?

    Couldn't have said it better, PaulT. Another thing is to understand, first hand, how computers is creating new businesses, and subsequently, challenges, in methods business is conducted that didn't exist 5 or 10 years ago-- business process outsorcing, job offshoring, international IP/patent/copyright, business process patents to name a few, are all things easier thru this magic box we call a computer.

     

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  31.  
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    mcs, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

    Blown way out of proportion...

    So we require a president to have experience with everything he makes decisions on? Ok. Look at other nationwide issues and apply that logic. You will see very quickly why this is not a big deal. The real issue here is not that people believe a president should be able to use a computer, it's that people can't see very well through the partisan goggles.

     

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  32.  
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    Craig Newmark, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 4:35pm

    Here's why the president needs to be Net literate

    the whole thing is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-newmark/the-permanent-town-hall-w_b_116823.html

    but the gist is that the only way a leader can be in touch is to use the best tools to do so, and the Net is the only platform that supports millions. You need to know the way people express themselves on the Net, and either be a little hands on, or have a confidante who gets it.

    My experience is first hand, a community of tens of millions.

     

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  33.  
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    Kevin Donovan, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 8:51pm

    Re: Blown way out of proportion...

    I'm not saying McCain should know how to fly-fish or throw a fastball, even though those activities are decided upon in some manner by the Federal Government. I'm saying the President should understand the BIG, fundamental issues and tech is one of them.

     

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  34.  
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    redeyez, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 10:38pm

    economic proportion

    I'd be happy if just 50% of politicians could honestly say that they understand the concept of supply and demand.
    Specifically, what factors would affect the current price of oil, like oh say, increasing supply thru drilling vs. looting the SPR vs. stealing "windfall profits."

    You know, baby steps. sheesh.

     

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  35.  
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    Nasch, Aug 9th, 2008 @ 9:00pm

    Re: Re:

    The problem with your position is that it implies the President should be familiar with issues that will be relevant to his term - all of them. How is it possible for one person to know, without any help, enough about every important subject in the world to make informed decisions? It's not. Of course the President is going to rely on advisors to give him knowledge and information about the topics he's not already an expert on (namely, almost all of them). It's only a matter of degree. Obama would need less instruction (more than none) on computer issues, where I'm sure McCain is more informed in other areas.

     

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  36.  
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    دردشة, Jul 11th, 2009 @ 9:44am

    I'm not saying McCain should know how to fly-fish or throw a fastball, even though those activities are decided upon in some manner by the Federal Government. I'm saying the President should understand the BIG, fundamental issues and tech is one of them

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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