Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The McCain-doesn't-use-the-internet meme

I've seen this meme half a dozen places: John McCain doesn't use the Internet or computers, therefore he's unqualified to be President.

Well, I'm intensely interested in understanding digital technologies and how they are causing enormous shifts in work, education, and leisure -- but I think this argument is pretty thin. It's essentially the flip side of the "experience" argument that we hear trotted out in various ways, often from the McCain camp itself. Candidate X has never served in the military, so how can he be commander-in-chief? Candidate Y has no executive experience, so how can she function as chief executive? Candidate Z has little economic experience, so how can he run the largest economy in the world?

Yet we generally don't narrow the pool of candidates to governors with economics degrees and military backgrounds. Competent leaders hire teams to take care of the issues in which they are not expert. Or to put it another way: the pool of true polymaths who are also outstanding leaders is pretty small. And that's okay.

But perhaps computer use seems more like a basic life skill. Like pumping gas or buying groceries -- two activities that we don't honestly expect our President to do either. I'm much more interested in what the candidate thinks about technology and education, technology and public policy, technology and the economy, than whether s/he can blog. I am not convinced that the experience of using a consumer electronic device will impart significant experiential knowledge that can't be substituted by a good board of advisors. Obama has a 300-person foreign policy advisory board to shore up his perceived weakness, and that seems perfectly reasonable as long as he can coordinate them; surely McCain can similarly draw on an advisory board to shore up his lack of experience in Googling.

(I should make clear here that I'm not in the tank for either McCain or Obama. I just want people to base their decisions on arguments that are reasonable and significant.)

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