Presidents and Technology

Lifehacker had a poll up, asking what sort of technological knowledge we expect from our President.

One commenter argued that it’s preposterous to expect a President who’s good with computers, asking whether we also expect them to do open-heart surgery or to be able to rebuild engines.

They accidentally made my point for me, though. I don’t want a President who understands why I’m excited about SSD, or a President who’s a hardcore C++ programmer. I don’t want a President who’s a surgeon, or a President who is an auto mechanic. Nothing against any of those people (especially programmers!), but their time honing their skills to become experts in those fields probably leaves them lacking political experience.

The car analogy, incidentally, is perfect. I don’t expect the President to rebuild engines. But I’d like a President that knows what cars are, and who understands highways. I’d like a President who owns a car, and who knows how to drive. I’d prefer that he can even pump gas. It’d be cool if he knew how to do an oil change or fix a flat, but it’s no big deal if they don’t.

I think it’s the same with computers. I don’t need, or even want, really, a hardcore geek as a President. But I think technology is too important to say that the President doesn’t need any technological experience. I want our next President to be computer literate, and to own a computer. I really think the Oval Office is overdue for technology. Imagine weekly podcasts (a “virtual fireside chat” if you will) from the President, or a President’s blog. The Internet has the power to bring overwhelming transparency to Washington, and I think it’s high time for that. Presidents have advisors, true, and I won’t want the President to directly head up these initiatives. But, in the year 2008, I think we need a President who’s computer literate.

Of course, I think anyone raising this question is being somewhat disingenuous. McCain was asked a while ago, “PC or Mac,” and laughing said that he was computer illiterate. Obama carries a Blackberry and runs a campaign website with a thriving ‘social media’ aspect. I’m not necessarily saying John McCain should be dismissed because he’s computer illiterate, but that it’s high time he explored “the Interwebs” and joined us in the 21st century.

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