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July 13, 2008

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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.

One expects this is the nub. He sees no need to get anything online, so if you sit him down in front of a browser, he'd have no notion of what to do next, nor enough pressing curiosity to just poke about. Different, long-familiar paradigm, and no perceived need to change. So "getting online" is an ordeal, demanding an investment of effort that dwarfs the expected benefit.

[/mindread]

"Here's a non-snarky question: what is hard about 'getting online'?"

I suggest a simple answer: typing.

In John McCain's heyday, that was "women's work," and beneath most men.

If you aren't even comfortable approaching a keyboard, the idea of trying to figure out a mysterous "computer" seems like it would take a lot of time and energy that a Very Important Man like John McCain has never found time to spare, and I don't expect that to change anytime soon, like, probably not during his lifetime.

I could, of course, be wrong.

Besides, he's on the bus all the time, you know. Straight-talking. It's a busy life.

(Digressive query: anyone seen any signs that McCain is any kind of reader of books? There are two kinds of people....)

I'd expect having packs of underlings to "deal" with procuring and disseminating online info for or about him helps to reduce the incentive, for that matter. Hence that being bothered to mess about with all this fussy nonsense himself is a novel pain (and in all fairness, actually navigating about the political web in an informed, non-haphazard manner is less trivial than those of us who do it excessively can probably recall... it's one thing to show someone how to check webmail and use basic search engines, and another to teach them utility, significance and protocol of the sundry sites that comprise the twisted, convoluted knot that is the political web; it's not undoable, but it'd be reasonable to expect it to be exasperating and painful to a neophyte, especially a generally computer illiterate one.)

Easy. Incentivize him with XXX porno sites.

what is hard about "getting online"?

Two possibilities:

1. McCain was pretty seriously disabled in VN; I believe he has very limited mobility in at least one arm. It is possible that he can't use a mouse or keyboard or at least can't use without great discomfort. At least some people his age have trouble getting the fine motor movements needed to use a mouse easily and I imagine that having limited mobility might make that even harder. There are configuration tricks one can do to ease the burden, but you won't do them until after you've started and it might be tough to get started without them.

2. I think there is a class/power issue with using computers. Back in the old days, a lot of people had secretaries to do much of the drudgery that we expect modern computers, the internet, and voice mail to do for us: think spell checking, basic reference checking, calendar appointments, and asynchronous messaging. Having a secretary reinforces a power dynamic: you have this human being whose sole purpose is to serve you. Being forced to use a computer by yourself might be tantamount to admitting that you're not important enough to have a lower class servant endure the drudgery of such tasks on your behalf. It is like washing your own dishes: if you do, that implies that you're not wealthy enough to have household servants to do it for you. For someone who grew up as the child and grandchild of admirals and married into vast wealth, the notion of doing for yourself what you're accustomed to having servants do for you might be very hard indeed.

This internet thing will never catch on! ;-)
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I can't blame him for preferring printed newspapers though (because I do myself).
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Maybe we need a new version of that old test of politicians for real life connectedness. Once it was sending them to a kiosk or a sausage stand to buy something (with cash) or asking them to reach a location by public transport and with the help of only a street map.
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Is the Son of Cain able to use a telephone without help (and what will he do, if it rings at 3am?)

Turbulence, there is voice-controlled software - it's always got to be trained to your voice specifically, but it's existed for 15 years commercially and it works very well. If McCain wanted to get online, that would be the thing for him (for anyone with mobility problems that made it difficult to use a mouse or a keyboard).

I think your second solution is more likely to be the correct one: McCain's always had staff to do that kind of thing for him.

I think some are being unduly harsh here - it's one thing to bash McCain for being a warmongering, nationalist asshole with zero-understanding of economics. He's all that and then some. But the majority of people over 70, even well-educated ones, don't like computers much. Recently I did some research for a telco to find out why many people over 70 didn't use the Internet, and it turned out that to them the benefits seemed low and the costs seemed high. The benefits seemed low becasue these were people with a lifetime's experience of finding things out and getting things sorted out the old ways - they read the papers, knew their way around a library and knew whom to ask for things. On the cost side, there was just a lot of fear. You ask 'what can go wrong?', but things do go wrong every so often and it freaks people out. These older people would start surfing about, maybe with a younger family around, and then those guys would go away and 5 minutes later Windows would report 'an illegal operation has occurred' and these poor folks thought a cop would be coming round. Or a 'fatal exception error' - if for most of your long life a computer has been an immensely expensive and fragile machine, reading stuff like that is really worrying. Finally there was a more general fear of humiliation, of tough, self-reliant people looking stupid and helpless in front of people a fraction their their age whom they could best in almost any other field of endeavour.

For some reason, of all the things that show just how terrible a candidate McCain is, this is the one that really stuns me. I mean, of course, his health care, foreign and tax policies are just awful and would be a disaster for the country but from my perspective, McCain has just admitted to being functionally illiterate. The only possible reason for someone in his position to not have a better grasp on the most ubiquitous source of knowledge and communication in the world is an absolutely astounding level of incuriousness. I think this would be one thing if you were talking about a person who genuinely doesn't have a daily requirement to be informed and be able to interpret data from all over the world. For a candidate for the President of the United States, its really completely unacceptable. He seems to actually be under the impression that the internet is some frivolous toy that need not concern him in any serious way.

JohnTh,

I think your explanation is all fine and good for any average citizen but not for someone running for President of the United States.

What I find most revealing about McCain's statement about "learning to get online" himself, is what it says about his engagement with the world.

Obviously, prior to being asked about it, McCain had absolutely no curiosity about, or interest in, this Internet thing that everybody has been talking about since the early 1990s. But, how can that be?

Long before I ever owned a computer, I remember the early-adopter types chattering excitedly about all the cool things they were doing "online."

One acqaintance couldn't get over the fact that there was a site that allowed him to look at an image of a coffee cup in England. Others spent all their time at work talking about the stuff they "chatted" about the night before while they were online.

These were the days when an e-mail address was a randomly-assigned series of numbers and letters, and you had to pay for your time online by the minute. Does anybody reading this even remember that? That's how long ago it was.

McCain has had time to learn about the Internet over the last 15 years, is my point.

Yet this man, the Republican Party's nominee for president of the United States, has just become aware of this technology that influences the lives of everybody on earth, even if they, like he, have never operated a computer.

How uninterested must you be in the world around you to end up in such a state of ignorance?

One of George W. Bush's greatest handicaps has always been his lack of curiosity. And look where that got us.

Compared to McCain, however, Bush is Descartes.

Can we really afford to go there?

JohnTh: I didn't mean to bash. I mean: one could ask questions like: hasn't it gotten to the point at which genuinely not knowing anything about the internet gets in the way of understanding, e.g., the economy? But I didn't really want to go there. (Not to discourage it in comments; just that I didn't want to write that kind of post.) I was just puzzled.

Part of it was that, as I said, I have helped people who are baffled by computers to get the basics of web-surfing. I agree that gathering tons of political information in a sophisticated way is hard, and probably not worth the effort for him. But I was thinking more of setting up a few favorite sites -- his favorite papers, the Senate calendar, etc. -- and bookmarking Google and teaching him such basics as what putting a phrase in quotes does.

At least in my experience, the payoff of that level of basic knowledge is huge, and the amount of help it takes to get someone there is tiny. And from there, they figure out about links and such.

The suggestion about his arm is a good one. I hadn't thought of that, but it could be the answer.

Of course, the thing that really started this post was his saying: "I don’t expect to set up my own blog".

JohnTh's comment is a good one and I am finding that even though I am in my late 40's, I am having problems with my eyes and even that small slowdown, despite the fact that I am pretty wired, makes things very difficult.

To follow up on Turb's point, McCain evidently has difficulty combing his own hair and has difficulty getting his suit jacket on, (link) I'm sitting in front of my computer and imagining if I couldn't lift my arms up to comb my hair. It seems like it would really impinge on someone's ability to use a computer.

I suspect McCain's problem is at least two-fold. First, he's a typical intellectually lazy right-winger, so he's never had much interest in learning new things. His career as a pilot, which was far from stellar, suggests his tech quotient isn't all that high. And his terrible grades at the Naval Academy suggest his willingness to learn is mediocre at best.

And, as has been noted above, there's the typing thing. My wife, a retired elementary school learning center director, came to realize that teachers who avoided learning elementary computer skills were also unable to type. The keyboard is a fearful piece of equipment for these folks.

I don't buy the disability argument at all. I've got severe spinal arthritis and I use a computer just fine. We've got blind friends and friends in wheelchairs, who all use computers. It's not ability, it's interest. McCain really doesn't care about it and is probably resentful and puzzled why it's even become an issue.

In the interests of fairness, it's not that long ago that the internet and email were relatively unusual. Go back about 15 or so years, and you'd be amazed how little was out there. Effectively, McCain could have hit 55 without any real need to use the net, or a computer. Once past that age, people often are reluctant to change, or find it difficult to do so. I'd also suggest that Democrats should not push this too hard - many old people may feel that this is an attack on their demographic. Overall, while I see where the surprise comes from, I think this is a questionable line of attack, both in terms of impact and fairness. Don't get me wrong - I want Obama to win, but I don't see much of percentage in attacking or mocking McCain for this. I would rather focus on his choice of advisers, lack of knowledge of the economy, and distressing tendency to ignore important public issues that don't interest him. That's why he is not presidential - not his lack of hours surfing the WWW.

It's probably the bewildering series of tubes.

First, he's a typical intellectually lazy right-winger, so he's never had much interest in learning new things.

Typical intellectual laziness is not limited to right-wingers.

I've been teaching my elderly mother how to use a computer, and there are two issues here: First, the default settings on most computers are seriously hostile to anybody with diminished hand-eye coordination and fine motor control. Second, unless you're used to typing, use of the keyboard is a serious obstacle.

Oh, I should add a third: Windows Vista. Whose idea was it to put the option to shut down the computer THAT DEEP down the menu tree?

Anyway, it's easy for those of us who grew up with computers, (I was programming a Honeywell mainframe in Jr. High back in the '70's. Ah, core memory...) to think using these beasts is absurdly easy. But it's not if you don't have the basic skills already.

To be computer literate is not a requirement to be President. If you go after McCain, try something else, please.
I agree 100 per cent with John Th on this . A lot of perfectly intelligent people over the age of 70 are simply freaked out about computers, and will not learn to use them. This isn't a sin or defect on their part. For my part, as I get older, there is some new stuff that I simply don't bother to learn how to use. My guess is that once I'm over 70, I won't be using those new fangled quantum computers that work by telepathy, but will still be using that same point-and click interface that I have been used to for all these years

I believe that with Vista you can rely on it to freeze on shut down the computer without being asked. *s* Another great piece of work for Microsoft!

"Riding a computer and having it crash is not a qualification for being President of the United States." ;-)

"My guess is that once I'm over 70, I won't be using those new fangled quantum computers that work by telepathy"

No, you absolutely should, because when you have that fatal heart attack, they'll be able to download your latest backup into a new body.

To be computer literate is not a requirement to be President.

I really couldn't disagree with any statement more. Computers and the internet in particular are the most ubiquitous and transformative technology in our society. The way that just about everything works in our world, from education to public utilities, to the military has undergone profound changes because of advances during the information age. Not just how we receive information but how we communicate has become inextricable from this technology. For someone running for President to not have a fundamental grasp of its functionality is not acceptable.

A lot of perfectly intelligent people over the age of 70 are simply freaked out about computers, and will not learn to use them. This isn't a sin or defect on their part.

That is true of a lot of things that you could substitute. I know, for instance, a lot of perfectly intelligent people both over and under 70 who cannot say, drive a car, or calculate percentages or more pointedly, cannot read or write. If they had the resources of John McCain, they would be able to function just fine without ever having to learn any of those things. That does not mean that any of them would be qualified to be the chief executive of the country. That is what we are talking about here. Yes, I do think not being able to use a computer in this modern day and age is equivalent to being functionally illiterate.

Maybe as a programmer I am just too tied into the importance of technology to see other perspectives here but I find the notion that ignorance in this area is not completely disqualifying to be absolutely mystifying.

At this point, I'd settle for wisdom combined with complete ignorance of, and disinterest in, the Internet.

I like to listen to NPR on road trips, to get my money’s worth. The topic for the half hour that I made it through last week was ‘Is 72 too old?’. They looped McCain’s SNL lines and had a guest who told the audience about the scars on McCain’s head, and his broken shoulders, and his limp, and how he ‘looks his age’.

Obama plays the same card, calling himself ‘young’ (46 years old?). I suspect the NY Times is adding another angle with the internet thing.

The Democrats could have a huge advantage with the age difference between the candidates. But they’re blowing it. They should learn to just shut up.

I have little sympathy for John McCain, but picking on him because of his age is extremely poor form, and will turn people off. Democrats should let the cameras do the talking, but they just can’t seem to help themselves.

The self-defeating vitriol displayed by those making an issue of McCain’s age seems to be the same vitriol that the Harvard-trained Barack Obama Senior felt towards Europeans and Asians in his paper Problems with Our Socialism. It is telling.

My dad is 81. My mom is 74.

They each have their own desktop computers, use e-mail, surf the net, and yeah, call on their offspring to solve problems beyond their resolution...

My dad has been using computers for almost as long as I have - he was shown how wordprocessors work, and after fifty years of using a typewriter, set it aside forever and wouldn't consider going back.

My mom was, relatively speaking, a late adopter: it was e-mail that convinced her.

Look, there is no reason in the world why McCain shouldn't learn how to use a computer. Not his age, not his disability. It's not even as if he's lacking in people to show him how and support him through any problems. If he won't, it's because his status as a non-keyboarder is important to him and he sees no particular reason to learn.

As we know from the past 8 years, a President can do very well with no particular curiosity about the world about him. And when I say "do very well", I mean can get into the White House twice despite losing two elections.

I think we should be honest here: a lot of the time spent on the internet or dealing with personal computers in general is simply a waste of time or at best a past time which could just as well be substituted with something else.

For instance, I like lifehacker.com, but if you think about the huge amount of time people spend there optimizing, tweaking and discussing things, you cannot help but wonder if all this talk of enhancing productivity isn't just a big hoax designed to keep people from doing or thinking about more important stuff.

Or let's take the discussion of the democratic primaries on blogs: every utterance by every surrogate was dissected to death, every gaffe was discussed in detail and the cheerleading and vilifying seemed to never end. Now that we have a candidate, much of this seems rather inconsequential and you wouldn't really missed anything had you checked the papers once a week on the state of the race.

Don't get me wrong, I work with computers and the internet is essential to me for networking and the exchange of knowledge in my field. But if a presidential candidate, or any person with huge responsibility in a not computer-related field for that matter, spent a lot of time on the internet or fiddling with computers, I'd be concerned rather than reassured.

Maybe as a programmer I am just too tied into the importance of technology to see other perspectives here but I find the notion that ignorance in this area is not completely disqualifying to be absolutely mystifying.

I've been writing software for 40 years, and I spend most of my day in front of a computer. However, I am acutely aware of how absurdly difficult computers are to learn, and how readily power users discount those difficulties. Especially difficult to appreciate is how long it takes to become reasonably adept at it. Yes, retired people who have hundreds of hours to spare can do it -- but a US Senator doesn't have that kind of time. I think that Mr. McCain has made the right judgement refraining from making the time investment to learn how to use computers. I'd rather have him devote some time to learning about the economy, foreign affairs, Islam, global warming, or a host of other things on which he is horribly ignorant to a degree disqualifying him, in my opinion, to be President.

Lastly, I'll point out that you don't have to be a computer user to appreciate the significance of the computer. You don't have to know the Stefan-Boltzmann Law to appreciate the significance of global warming; you don't need a degree in economics to understand that cutting taxes while increasing spending is bad policy; and you don't need to travel to Iran to understand that bombing Iran is a bad policy.

To be computer literate is not a requirement to be President.

As far as I can tell, the Constitution does not require the President to be literate, period.

The actual requirements are:
1) at least 35 years old; and
2) natural-born citizen.
McCain has the first one covered in spades. A few people on the fringe argue that he fails the second, but they're on the fringe for a reason.

McCain is "qualified" to be President, but in the legal sense so are about 200 million other people. Whether his professed unfamiliarity with the mechanics of "going on line" is a drawback to his candidacy, the voters will decide. Quite possibly, more of them will decide based on his height, rather than his web savvy.

I don't know, by the way, that Obama spends more time web-surfing than McCain does. I don't know whether one is Mac, the other PC. Anybody know the answers to these burning questions?

-- TP

If the Democrat’s were smart, they would send people to Meghan McCain’s site. But, since Meghan is hot, maybe the calculation is that people would only look at the pictures. Maybe the Democrats know what they are doing. Meghan would be a great first daughter and, unlike the Bush twins, seems to dig being in front of cameras. That might translate into votes in 2008.

Brent, you think being able to drive a car is a requirement for the presidency?

I don't know whether one is Mac, the other PC.

McCain's preference for Mac should be obvious, on two counts: first, his name; second, has anyone ever suggested that he was PC?

BOB - it's not the age, it's the utter lack of interest. Yes, as commenters have pointed out, there are a number of conditions, both age-related (declining vision, fine motor control, familiarity, obsolete social norms, etc.) and specifically McCain-related (reduced mobility, self-image?) that would make it harder to get computer skills. But he doesn't really seem to care about doing so. And - even besides how a candidate for 21stC. U.S. President doesn't seem particularly interested in a set of major transformative technologies, years after they've become embedded in daily life for most people, either personally or at a slight remove - this fits right in besides a host of other issues - economics, foreign policy, uh, what's my position of birth control? cap™, etc. - where he frankly doesn't seem to know that much and much worse, doesn't seem to care.

" the same vitriol that the Harvard-trained Barack Obama Senior felt towards Europeans and Asians in his paper Problems with Our Socialism."

It's like reverse Mad Libs - instead of a text with blanks where you can put in your choice of words, there's a set of fixed phrases (Harvard-trained, Barack Obama Sr., "Problems with Our Socialism"), and one just dumps in text (relevant or not) around them.

Lastly, I'll point out that you don't have to be a computer user to appreciate the significance of the computer. You don't have to know the Stefan-Boltzmann Law to appreciate the significance of global warming; you don't need a degree in economics to understand that cutting taxes while increasing spending is bad policy; and you don't need to travel to Iran to understand that bombing Iran is a bad policy.

I think I disagree, in general, with what you are suggesting. It seems to set an awfully low bar for a Presidential candidate. I think the basic argument you are putting forth is that one can assess policy on certain issues without necessarily being deeply and personally involved with the issue. I guess that's right as far as it goes but it isn't quite applicable to what ought to be expected of the President of the United States. Thinking about global warming policy or Iran policy, especially from the position of Chief Executive, does require, I believe, an intellectual engagement with the topics that ought to be, if not comprehensive, at least moderately conversant. The same is true of internet and tech policy. A person who does not use a computer is not conversant in this area and is not likely to be and the fact is that they are deeply important issues.

cap™

'cap and trade' , that is. But now I know how to make the ™ symbol. There's actually an interesting side discussion that could be had about play, mistakes, and learning . . .

brent, I'm not in strong disagreement with you. I agree that the President needs to be conversant in a great many matters. You agree that a candidate need not be an expert in any of them. We're disagreeing about how dark or white the gray area is.

But let me throw in a pragmatic argument here: we have a cornucopia of points regarding Mr. McCain's ignorance of important issues. We have the many quotes that clearly prove that he doesn't have a grip on the basic facts. Why bother with a debatable point when we have so many undebatable points to beat him over the head with? Why bother hitting him with a pillow when we have so many 2x4's laying around? (Sorry for the violent imagery... too lazy to come up with a more civilized metaphor.)

Dan S.

You state that McCain has a ‘lack of interest’. That is your speculation. It could be lack of interest, or that he prefers to be briefed by others, or that his shoulders make it painful for him to type, or an eyesight thing.

But the ‘McCain is an old man’ theme seems to be a common denominator in the Democrat message. I think that it is a mistake. I think the overtness of the message is based in repressed anger [covetness, inadequacy, jealously?] in the Democratic leadership. You can read about these feelings in Senior’s paper. If the Democrats want to win, they should not make an issue of McCain’s age.

If I were to speculate, I’d say that McCain’s computer usage is based on flightiness in his thought processes. I base this on his daughter’s work, snapshots of him on the campaign trail, and my belief that intelligence is inherited.

" we have so many 2x4's laying around

McCain, not McArdle . . .

base this on his daughter’s work, snapshots of him on the campaign trail, and my belief that intelligence is inherited.

Your belief is only partially supported by the evidence.

But evidence has never gotten in the way of your beliefs.

(Not to mention that his daughter has genes from places other than John McCain).

Brent, you think being able to drive a car is a requirement for the presidency?

Good question. Its not exactly what I meant to convey with my comment but I think it raises an interesting issue for me. Most of the people I know that cannot drive have grown up in contexts where it was just never necessary or helpful to have a car. They live in (and never leave) cities with highly developed public transportation and there was a lot more downside to owning a car then otherwise. They often do tend to have a profound disconnect when it comes to understanding the normal transportation issues that are part of life outside but I wouldn't necessarily consider that disqualifying in and of itself. If, however, they lived in a different context, like a rural or suburban environment and had never learned to drive because they had a personal driver and could never be bothered to learn, I would find that a bit more questionable. It wouldn't be quite as big a deal as the computer issue where I think ignorance has a much bigger downside but I would consider the lack of curiosity or initiative it must take to avoid learning such a basic skill one's whole life a mark against them.

Tony Blair was computer illiterate. I was never a Blair fan but I think I'd argue his inability to use a computer didn't damage his ability to be a PM (however we rate that ability). David Blunkett didn't email. No problem. It was a problem that he seemed to think his being blind absolved him of needing to learn, as it was an insult to the blind people who email and also lessened the likelihood of his supporting work on assistive technology (special custom-built software may be needed to link voice software and screenreaders).

Age. I have 'age-related' cognitive decline. (A bad fall may have contributed to this.) I also have chronic pain. I would not be surprised if McCain had similar problems, his insouciance could be in part a cover up. He would find it difficult to learn new things (I still haven't managed to learn to use a digital camera, though I imagine if a hilzoy came along and babied me through it, I could learn reasonably quickly). His lack of patience and quick temper would make that worse. I've used voice software for years, a lot of people older than me use it, but it is not that easy to come to terms with and any disabled person who uses it will probably want to write or buy macros. (Etc.)

Do I think McCain would make a good President? No. Do I think his 'inability to get online' is a real problem ceteris paribus? No.

(Typing. I've taught men and women to use computers. In the West, anyway, men jettisoned any 'typing is for women' notions; after all, 'computing is for men'.)

Tony Blair was computer illiterate. I was never a Blair fan but I think I'd argue his inability to use a computer didn't damage his ability to be a PM (however we rate that ability). David Blunkett didn't email. No problem. It was a problem that he seemed to think his being blind absolved him of needing to learn, as it was an insult to the blind people who email and also lessened the likelihood of his supporting work on assistive technology (special custom-built software may be needed to link voice software and screenreaders).

Age. I have 'age-related' cognitive decline. (A bad fall may have contributed to this.) I also have chronic pain. I would not be surprised if McCain had similar problems, his insouciance could be in part a cover up. He would find it difficult to learn new things (I still haven't managed to learn to use a digital camera, though I imagine if a hilzoy came along and babied me through it, I could learn reasonably quickly). His lack of patience and quick temper would make that worse. I've used voice software for years, a lot of people older than me use it, but it is not that easy to come to terms with and any disabled person who uses it will probably want to write or buy macros. (Etc.)

Do I think McCain would make a good President? No. Do I think his 'inability to get online' is a real problem ceteris paribus? No.

(Typing. I've taught men and women to use computers. In the West, anyway, men jettisoned any 'typing is for women' notions; after all, 'computing is for men'.)

"You state that McCain has a ‘lack of interest’. That is your speculation. It could be lack of interest, or that he prefers to be briefed by others, or that his shoulders make it painful for him to type, or an eyesight thing.

I mentioned those factors in my comment. Look, I knew someone in college whose mobility was rather drastically more compromised than McCain's, and he not only was very much computer literate, but would put together his own (with, iirc, assistance). I'm not saying these things couldn't make any difference, but ultimately, that he hasn't overcome them suggests either a) little motivation, aka 'lack of interest', or b) he is interested, but even with all the human and other resources at his disposal (and there are even various programs, etc. to help aid older adults in becoming more comfortable with computers) this is enough to mostly defeat him.

Following up Hartmut's comment, that 3 am phone call is likely to be an email. Or at least based on an email.

Oh sorry. I can usually use the Typepad comments system but this time it confused me.

Brett @10.53; yes, and if you decided voice software was the solution, you'd find a whole new set of problems (mind you, McCain could buy his way out of most of them: buy special tutoring and custom-built macros, and so on).

Brent, I can't drive. I may lack a knowledge of some transport issues but have a countervailing knowledge of others (rail services, rail fares, bus services, poorly planned routes, poorly served rural areas) that a driver might lack.

I do though think in retrospect that McCain's lack of knowledge of computing is a problem in that it will make him even less likely than otherwise to see the significance of the digital divide.

Not that managing to use the internet is in itself a Presidential requirement in any slightly meaningful way. Rather (just like driving in brent's example) it can, depending on the circumstances, serve as a proxy for other, perhaps harder to pin down qualities like mental flexibility, openness, intellectual vivacity, etc. And look (in general) it's fine if you're a perfectly happy older person who's content with the way things were, and doesn't necessarily want to change, given how much has changed but this is someone who wants to be President of the United States of America in a time of rapid change and sudden challenges. (Granted, 'tis ever thus, but . . .)

jayann: but I think I'd argue his inability to use a computer didn't damage his ability to be a PM

Well, I think that it didn't help that Blair had no notion how Iraq—its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation, released on 3rd February 2003 as the British government's "latest intelligence dossier on Iraq" was plagiarised from three articles available on the internet, cut-and-pasted including typos.

The plagiarism was spotted almost immediately - three days later, Channel 4 led with the story on the evening news. This was supposed to be up-to-the-minute British intelligence gathering, and evidently the people responsible for compiling it knew that the Prime Minister didn't have the google-fu to figure out he was being handed a bundle of nothing.

Sometimes it really helps to be just that bit computer literate and Internet savvy...

I tend to think that Prime Ministers/Presidents don't expect to Google much of anything. After all, they rely on subordinates to do their work properly. More problematic than Blair's illiteracy is the fact that he never demanded a proper process of verification, which would have revealed the unwelcome truth. That's where Blair failed - and it's part of why he was a good politician, but very second-rate administrator.

I don't know, jesurgislac. Would any President or Prime Minister really be expected to Google everything just in case the material (that was conducive to them doing what they anyway wanted to do) was plagiarised, and clumsily at that?

Glen Rangwala spotted it, I thought, because the words rang a bell in his mind. I think, too, he knew where to look. As Jane's Intelligence Review is on the web, I suppose he may simply have Googled 'blind', but I doubt it.

I think there are 3 basic stages
1. Complete "illiteracy"
2. General knowledge about but lack of first hand experience
3. Practical knowledge

I myself have a driving licence but have not steered a car since the day I got it (public transport over here is very good and I do not travel often beyond ist range). So I would be in transition between stage 2 and 3.
Even non-drivers usually have a basic knowledge about how a car works (I am not talking about the mechanics of the motor but about gas, brakes and steering wheel).
In my opinion a serious candidate for the presidency should be at least on stage 2 for most relevant topics with stage 3 for the most important ones. On mainly irrelevant topics (like e.g. the difference between the philosophies of Spinoza and Hume or intricacies of pre-Raphaelite painting techniques) stage 1 may be tolerable.
Computers and how to use them should be at least stage 2. It is not necessary that he is online daily but that there is a basic understanding of the concept and its importance.
I think the most important thing for a president to have is a functioning and well-trained BS detector allowing him/her to not having to rely on others blindly (as Bush is often described) and having the ability to judge one's own limitations and to act accordingly (a quality Bush definitely lacks).

A lot of the Google discussion comes down to a classic issue in bureacratic theory: who controls data, who presents it, and who analyzes it. It's very easy for a bureaucracy to control these issues if the "boss" is not interested in anything but being spoonfed the "right" answers. This is a classic problem, and applies across history to eg. the imperial Chinese bureaucracy, Stalin's Soviet system, and more recently the politicized bureaucracies under Blair/Brown and Bush.

Bush may be the "decider" but he's already narrowed down the range of decisions from yes/no to how/when, which is the fatal step, because at that point you get data that fits, rather than a full range. I don't think it matters that McCain doesn't Google for himself - but it matters immensely that in all his time in politics he's never developed basic knowledge and competence on key social and economic issues. I would take someone who was computer illiterate, but knew what data they wanted to see as a President - but the signs are that McCain doesn't care to know, which renders even the finest Google-fu useless.

If I were to speculate, I’d say that McCain’s computer usage is based on flightiness in his thought processes. I base this on his daughter’s work, snapshots of him on the campaign trail, and my belief that intelligence is inherited.

Actually, I think it's a well-earned aversion to forms of communication that leave an auditable trail.

This aversion, while instinctive in our Anglo-Saxon ruling elite, is sadly (for them) not inherited, but must be learned anew, by each new generation.

This topic was discussed at length by Bush's grandfather Prescott, after his censure in Congress and the seizure of his UBC assets, in his privately published monograph, "Problems with our National Socialism".

;-)

Thanks -

I think Jes was having a bit of a laugh.

Hartmut, I take your general point, but based on my observations of the decision making processes exhibited by people straight out of driving school (including myself) I'd be rather scared if we follow through with your metaphor all the way to the president making life or death decisions.

Bonus unsolicited advice: if you do start up that car at a certain point in the future, please take it very slowly ;).

[I would rather focus on his choice of advisers, lack of knowledge of the economy, and distressing tendency to ignore important public issues that don't interest him. That's why he is not presidential - not his lack of hours surfing the WWW.]

Considering that there are some sizeable issues that will undoubtedly confront the next President which all revolve around the continued development of Internet technology (or whatever replaces it), as a voter I wish I could insist that said President at least understood the importance of broadband saturation in the U.S. and comparison to other countries', ISP conglomeration to mirror other media conglomeration, net neutrality, to name but a few very basic issues. I would further suggest that actually using the computer certainly encourages an appreciation of how technological frustration can influenced the economy.

And as to the whole age issue, for me it boils down to the fact that I desperately want a President whose vision is firmly fixed on the future and what changes might be required to get us there with as few national black eyes as possible. There are always individuals of quite advanced age who manage to keep that perspective, but I doubt that John McCain is one of them.

I intend to take a few extra lessons before trying to use a car again (especially in the city). I actually had the problem of being overcautious behind the wheel. If it was up to me, I'd make major changes to the standard design (including a mandatory head up display, so looking for the instruments does not take your eyes off the road, an anti-collision radar or echosounder* and an indicator at what angle the wheels are at the moment).

*also useful for getting into tight parking spots

I have two reactions on this issue.

My first reaction was to give McCain the benefit of the doubt for numerous reasons listed above by others (age, physical disability, etc), but mostly because it seems grotesquely self-centered and narcissistic for the members of a highly internet-centric virtual community who are outliers (in that regard) with respect to the general population, to knock McCain for not being "into" one of our favorite activities. It is as if a stamp-collecting society was put off by his lack of interest in philately - big deal, get over it.

But on second thought, I'm more inclined to agree with Brent, the longer I think about it, for several reasons.

First off, the internet is becoming every more vital to our economy. To understand how modern businesses work, especially the larger and more globalized ones (as well as many branches of the public sector), you really have to have some grasp of what role the internet plays in B2B and B2C commerce, JIT inventory systems, and globalization more generally. I don't know how well these things can be understood without a basic grasp of the technologies involved, or how well the latter can be simulated without actual hands-on familiarity.

Also, during John McCain's adult lifetime our economy here in the US has shifted very significantly away from manufacturing and into services, and a good chunk of the high value-add service jobs which are needed to help keep our income average from slumping are very information intensive and very internet-dependant. I would worry that a leader who just doesn't get the internet may have a shaky grasp of some of the economic issues that a POTUS will have to face. Just think of all the issues regarding intellectual property, privacy, censorship, etc. which may come up in Congress at some point in the next 4-8 years. Shouldn't the POTUS have some basic grasp of the underlying technologies?

But most of all, the internet provides the infrastructure for new communications media. The POTUS is first and before all other things a communicator. Yes, they make policy decisions, albeit with the assistance of a large staff and input from the cabinet and Congress, but those policy decisions are actually implemented, or fail to be, as a function of the ability of the POTUS to effectively communicate. What was Ronald Reagan's nickname? "The Great Communicator". For a president in this era not to have a grasp of what the internet means from a communications standpoint would be like FDR not understanding radio. The next administration will be working with one hand tied behind their back if they don't grasp how to use these new communications media, and ones which differ notably from older broadcast media in many significant ways (point-to-point vs. hub-and-spoke, participatory vs. one-way, the speed is faster, etc).

Now maybe these things can be well understood by staff while the POTUS remains ignorant, but that doesn't sound to me like a recipe for notable success. It may not be disqualifying, but other things being equal I want to see us be led by somebody who has a solid grasp (at a basic level, not necessarily all the geeky details) of what the internet does, how it works, and how it can be used most effectively to move our country forward.

I don't know how well these things can be understood without a basic grasp of the technologies involved, or how well the latter can be simulated without actual hands-on familiarity.

One doesn't need to be able to use something in order to understand its role, capabilities, and significance. E.g., there's many competent, qualified naval historians out there who could lecture you for hours on the significance, design, armaments, and strategic utility of H.M.S. Dreadnought, but wouldn't have had the first clue how to perform even the most basic tasks upon it.

It's hardly an admirable virtue, but I can't bring myself to find this damning, and I'm inclined to think that hammering it is fraught with danger of being accused of coded ageism.

I'm inclined to think that hammering it is fraught with danger of being accused of coded ageism.

Who exactly is hammering it? I don't see the campaign touching it at all.

Perhaps the best approach would be to congratulate Senator McCain in having finally worked out how to turn on the computer. A rich reward for six months focused effort!

"What's hard about getting online?"

For people who didn't grow up with computers, there are a lot of possibilities; even many people who did don't particularly like them. Experienced users tend not to be aware of how many cognitive difficulties computers present; it is still true that, as one of the greats of software engineering observed, it is still too difficult to use computers, and it still takes too long to get them to do anything useful. But I'd guess that the most likely difficulty for McCain (and many other pols) is that he prefers to interact with people through the spoken word, and current computers are not designed to do that very well.

My mother just recently gave in (no, my sister just went to her house and installed the thing) and let a phone answering machine into her house.

For several years we had a little code (let it ring once and then call back) because she had some calls she wasn't interested in taking.

Being absent-minded, I forgot to do the ring-code every single time I called her during this lengthy period. She could tell it was me by the cursing from 1300 miles away.

It's a mind-set.

I learn the computer on an absolute need-to-know basis. If I'm required to learn some function or other, I ask my 18-year old to show me.

He immediately clicks 12 times, dervish-like, and brings up nine windows like we're playing three-card Monty. I calmly stare at him until he backs up to step #1 and starts over with a heads-up for each new step.

If I'd taught him to walk like he teaches me the computer, I'd have taken a brisk stroll across the room and said, "Got that? Nothing to it. Now, you."

O.K., O.K. I'll learn to link, Gary. ;)

What you need is online video training, John. I can recommend lynda.com: they got that whole friendly geek talks you through it step by step down pat and at 25$ a month it's a steal. (I'm not affiliated with them, and hope it's ok to post something like that.)

I have no problem with McCain's lack of computer skills. Like other comments, though, there appears, from his statements over time, an astounding lack of curiosity about the impact of the internet on the world in general. This does bother me.

It reflects an over all incuriosity that he projects about just about everything. And we have already had 8 years with a President who displayed no great desire to increase his knowledge about things and see where that got us.

Yay! Phil Gramm is out as an advisor to the McCain campaign.

If you gaze long into all internet traditions , all internet traditions will gaze back into you.

I thought of this yesterday: McCain isn't willing to spend the time needed to see his daughter's site. He isn't willing to spend the time needed to see what's on the site with HIS name on it. He seems to have no respect for his family, nor for what his viewers see.

Sad.

(My neice sends me pictures and videos of her daughter, now about 7 months. I wouldn't be able to share this amazing adventure with her otherwise.)

Jeff: one of the thoughts I had, but didn't put into the post, was: this would help explain why McCain's site is so dreadful. (It really is.)

But you're right about his daughter. I hadn't thought of that.

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