The Analog Candidate

A writer in the New York Times discusses why so many people gave McCain a hard time for basically admitting that he was computer illiterate.

So why have Mr. McCain’s admissions of digital illiteracy sparked such ridicule in wiseguy circles?

Computers have become something of a cultural marker – in politics and in the real world. Proficiency with them suggests a basic familiarity with the day-to-day experience of most Americans – just as ignorance to them can suggest someone is “out of touch,” or “old.”

“We’re not asking for a president to answer his own e-mail,” said Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley futurist who teaches at Stanford. “We’re asking for a president who understands the context of what e-mail means.”

The “user experience,” Mr. Saffo said, brings with it an implicit understanding of how the country lives, and where it might be heading. As Mr. McCain would lack this, he would also be deficient in this broader appreciation for how technology affects lives.

Exactly. Certainly no one expects the president to spend hours on line.

However our leaders do need to have a good understanding of the public policy issues involving telecommunications that will need to be addressed very soon.

Not to mention some idea of why many of us believe the web is important for something other than boosting the bottom line of the big telecoms (and other large campaign contributors).

Teachable Moment

I’d guess that just about every candidate for public office in this country has established a web site to support his or her campaign.

But should we allow a 5th grader running for president of the student association to do the same thing?

It’s a question that came up this week and, while I haven’t heard whether the principal will allow the young man to use his URL on campaign posters, this situation sounds like a wonderful teachable moment.

A terrific opportunity for teachers to help not only that student but the rest of the school, learn some lessons about how to constructively use the web.