Power and the Internets

How would you vote (Lifehacker poll closed) regarding the question “How tech-savvy should the President be?” Here’s a sample of 4800 opinions. Read the choices below, cast your vote, then I’ll tell you mine.

  • Extremely–there’s no way you can have a job that important and not be comfortable online. 27% (1279 votes)
  • Somewhat important, but I don’t expect the President to know what Twitter is. 49% (2342 votes)
  • Not at all important. No President is going to be an expert in every subject; that’s why the President has advisors. 9% (439 votes)
  • Level of tech skill won’t decide my vote, but I would be more comfortable with a President who came across as clueful about computers. 16% (764 votes)

I think I’d vote EXTREMELY important. The online infrastructure is increasingly central to world commerce, integral to communications of an expanding variety of digital information types, and perilously at risk both from misguided regulation and to outside attack.

A president who does not use computers and the Internet cannot be a vigilant guardian of what is good about those tools that must be protected or can he (or she) understand the risk for having our electronic biosphere fall into the hands of the “evil doers.”

I don’t expect a Jason Bourne or McGuyver, but being able to find fast facts and send off a quick query to a fact-holding cabinet member could come in very handy in our uncertain and increasingly fast-paced wired future.

It seems to me that for an adult in a position of such power in government to have willfully spurned these tools reflects and anti-technology bias and perhaps an maladaptive resistance to change.

Note: that neither the incumbent or his party’s nominee are computer users is my understanding

So what’s your take?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I would argue that a president might not need or have the time for surfing the net, but s/he had better understand how it works and how powerful it can be. And those politicians who DON’T use the net aren’t paying attention to the grass-roots and the rabble-rousers around the world who are using the internet to spread information their governments are trying to suppress. To ignore or not understand the nature of the beast is irresponsible at best, fatally stupid at worst.
    And I would seriously consider voting for Jason Bourne. 😉

  2. YGBSM! I don’t care if the President ever saw a computer. I don’t care if he drives a car either, or shops for his/her own food, or goes to baseball games. I’d rather the President spend time reading reading up on history and have a solid grasp of the instruments of national power.

    There are plenty of buffoons in Congress who can aspire to expertise on the minutiae that befuddles the Internet, or the financial markets, or highways, or whatever herring you want to throw out there. There is also plenty of expertise in the executive branch on just about everything in Wikipedia.

    We can’t have a President bouncing from issue to issue. This is the whole country we are talking about, and our relationship to other countries, both friends and not friends, is where Presidential expertise and skill is paramount. Even expertise on the internal economy is secondary.

  3. Inability to use a computer in this day and age signifies to me a certain lack of curiosity about and engagement with the world. It certainly isn’t necessary to be able to tinker under the hood or to understand what a URL is, but understanding the social impact of the Internet is. It is not uncommon, I think, for executives to have a limited ability to use a computer, but to not know that the Internet is the mother of all libraries is not helpful. I’d much prefer that my President be quite familiar with the communication revolution spurred by the personal computer.

  4. Another perspective on being computer savvy: Wendell Berry most likely doesn’t have a clue about using a computer, but that doesn’t hinder a fine mind that produces provocative prose (oops! there I go with alliteration, again!).

  5. My vote is also for extremely important. A president who is negligent in acquiring knowledge in the advancement of technology puts our country at risk of falling behind future superpowers like China and Russia. Perhaps that’s why they have been gaining on us in the last eight years….
    Wait a minute though. Didn’t Al Gore invent the Internet and didn’t I recently hear that John McCain had something to do with the advancement of the Blackberry? – -hmm
    Perhaps we could appoint Jason Bourne, Secretary of State…

  6. Fred, I just feel that this article has the sense of desperately straining to connect a couple of issues. Maybe you were shooting for that dumbed-down audience who isn’t traditionally represented by online blog readers?

    I guess the way I see it is, can my candidate make the right decisions rather than how quickly they can be made with technology. I doubt the fate of our country hangs in the balance of nanosecond differences in communication. “Doh! If I just had an I-Phone, war would have been averted.”, or “Drats, people wouldn’t have starved if I just had wireless email.”

    A President needs to be thoughtful about issues the country faces, and whether he empowers his directives through IM, email, or telephone simply isn’t important.

    Does Obama have the Congressional, international, and leadership skills to do the best job? When I look at his resume, it just isn’t there, and his anti-corporate, high tax positions seem to discourage the very technological innovation you feel is so important.

  7. To me, the most important aspect of computer competence is the ability to quickly obtain vast amounts of information about current events and issues, from economics to science, on a daily basis. A computer-competent president could scan the world press on-line, in an hour or two daily, to keep a complex and balanced view of national and world issues and hence make better decisions. Otherwise he would be dependent on the slanted summaries of advisers, each with his own bias. In the current economic crisis, for example, I doubt that the presidential candidates are getting an accurate and truthful briefing about the issues, but rather, are being stampeded by fearful predictions, along with the rest of Congress, into selling out the taxpayers for the benefit of the Corporate Oligarchy.

  8. I see deep knowledge of technology as unimportant in a president. What is better about being exposed to 100 online opinions, each of which is held by a biased person, than being exposed to opinions of competent advisors? (BTW: I don’t consider knowledge of how to use the internet as a sign of deep knowledge of technology. Technology encompasses much more than electrons and holes, ones and zeroes, MacIntosh and Microsoft.)

  9. Competent advisors! Isn’t that an oxymoron?
    Is there such a thing as an unbiased personal opinion? I have no faith in any poll where one can only answer YES or NO or place an X in a box in front of some manufactured sentence or short paragraph deliberately designed to mislead or confuse the results.

    That’s why this kind of forum is better in my opinion. One gets to read what another individual actually thinks, biases included, for it is all but impossible to filter out all such biases or prejudices. If our President had experience and knowledge of computers and technological information gathering he may be more capable of determining what is righteous opinion vs personal bias or prejudice in someone’s advice or opinion.

    Look at what took place with Bush and most of the important decisions he had to make. He had to rely on intelligence reports that were filled with errors and biases while deciding if we should invade Iraq to destroy what is known today as non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

    I’m going with EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.