13 July 2008

In defense of John McCain "getting online"

There has been some confused comment on the statements by John McCain that he is just now learning to get online. The NYT reports:

He said, ruefully, that he had not mastered how to use the Internet and relied on his wife and aides like Mark Salter, a senior adviser, and Brooke Buchanan, his press secretary, to get him online to read newspapers (though he prefers reading those the old-fashioned way) and political Web sites and blogs.

“They go on for me,” he said. “I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.”
Hilzoy comments:

That was the snarky part. Here's a non-snarky question: what is hard about "getting online"? I assume he's not talking about having trouble setting up his cable modem, or something. I also assume he's talking about he web, and not about, say, having his computer update its clock automatically. What, exactly, do you have to do to get online? Well, you have to know which application is the one you click to surf the web, I guess. And it would help to have someone set up a few favorite sites for you, so that you could jump off from them, or at least read them when you felt like it. But, having done this myself for a few people who came of age long before PCs were invented, it's really not that hard. Did none of his kids, or his friends, or the people who work for him, offer? Does he perhaps not own a computer?

I understand the confusion on how an everyday person can get by in life without using a computer. But we'll be honest, Presidents and presidential candidates, and really leaders of any large organization are not everyday people. Not to say that they put their pants on differently but most of them are focused not on getting information (what most people do on the internet) but on processing information.

If you grew up with computers or had computers grow up with you it would be fairly easy to pick them up and use them yourself. However, if you were the powerful senior senator from the state of Arizona, with a busy schedule and an established routine, I can understand not making the time to learn how to ues them. He would already had a staff that used the internet to get him the information that he needs to continue doing his job of making decisions.

Now is it a problem that a possible President of the United States doesn't understand how the modern economy works? Yes.

Is understanding the effect of the blogsphere on traditional media and vice versa going to be an essential skill of politicians in the next 10 years? You can bet your presidential hopes on it.

Does it mean that he is missing serious opertunities in organizing and fundraising? Yes.

Those are all problems that concern me. The fact the Senator McCain doesn't carry a blackberry or read a blog, doesn't bother me.

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