Time Worries McCain Is Too Old and Clueless to Rule the Internet
This week’s Time magazine doesn’t only conclude that John McCain is as un-American as al-Qaeda for mocking Obama’s celebrity. They go on to worry about the old man’s Internet illiteracy, such a contrast to Obama, "well known to be a BlackBerry addict." In an article titled "The Offline American," writer Lev Grossman suggested McCain’s statement that "I don’t e-mail" and relies on his wife for help makes him too clueless to make decisions about the Internet. The liberals have figured out how to use McCain’s age and experience against him, claiming he’s not qualified to rule the Internet: "if you can't grasp that structure, how can you lead the people who live and work in it?"
Time completely ignores McCain's leadership of the Senate Commerce Commitee, a center of Congress's technology policy-making, and McCain's proposed tech agenda. Grossman says McCain’s staff is backpedaling (and some of McCain’s self-deprecating commentary is meant to be jokey and exaggerating), but he asserts McCain is dangerously lacking:
On the grand scale of wired politicians, he's probably somewhere between recently indicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who famously described the Internet as a "series of tubes," and our current President, who once proudly explained to CNBC's Maria Bartiromo how he uses "the Google." (As for Obama, he's well known to be a BlackBerry addict.)
Grossman writes that McCain is an example of the problem of the "digital divide" that President Clinton tried to solve. But that was largely the usual liberal complaint that the poor didn’t have broadband yet, not that wealthy Washington politicians weren’t literate in "hacker parlance." Apparently, Clinton’s good works on the Web didn’t trickle down to McCain:
But the great cybercrusade hasn't reached McCain. We could just shrug and assume that McCain, at 71, is typical of his age group, but that's actually not the case. While it's true, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, that only 35% of Americans over the age of 65 are online, if you look at the subset for McCain's race, gender and education, the number is more like 75%. McCain is way behind.
Does this mean he shouldn't be President? On a practical level, it's a nonissue. If President McCain needs to watch the new Rihanna video on YouTube, he can wave his little finger and eight Secret Service guys will hook him up.
What's more worrying is the idea that McCain is disconnected from the social, cultural and economic realities of the Internet. We are way past the point where we can treat the Internet as if it were some kind of nerd Narnia only tangentially connected to the real world. In the next few years, the President is going to have to make decisions about Internet surveillance, Net neutrality, cyber warfare (which, after years as an urban myth, has become quite real) and online privacy, just to name a few issues.
And more than that, the structure of a networked world is hard to understand if you haven't spent some time as a node in that network. The centerlessness, the irrelevance of geography, the propagation of information, the Friedmanian economic flatness, the semi-anonymous contacts with millions of other people – if you can't grasp that structure, how can you lead the people who live and work in it?
At the article's end, Grossman tries to balance his lament by suggesting that McCain's alleged cluelessness could be a positive in a world not trying to scale back from the productivity challenges posed by e-mail and "information overload" at the office:
Perhaps the Clinton crusade has worked too well. Now we're trying to jump back across the digital divide. Who knows? Maybe McCain will be our most productive President ever. He's so behind the times, he's way ahead of them.