Should our President be computer literate?

Should our President be computer literate?

Summary: Normally I don't like to talk about my political and socio-economic opinions, particularly because as a matter of experience once people discover my true leanings, they sometimes find my completely unrelated opinions on technology, food, or whatever it else we have in common to be less valid. It's stupid that people tend to behave this way but it's the harsh reality that is human nature, which is the tendency to latch on to personality traits or ideas as a way to "box" people.



Normally I don't like to talk about my political and socio-economic opinions, particularly because as a matter of experience once people discover my true leanings, they sometimes find my completely unrelated opinions on technology, food, or whatever it else we have in common to be less valid. It's stupid that people tend to behave this way but it's the harsh reality that is human nature, which is the tendency to latch on to personality traits or ideas as a way to "box" people.

As a human being I would like not to be boxed by anyone, but that's the way it is. Even with technology, it's convenient for some of my readers to box me as a "Linux" person or a "Microsoft-basher" or "Anti-VMWare" or an "Apple hater" because of an article I wrote or a statement I may of made. The reality is that human beings are complex, and the principles that make us what we are are not necessarily so cut and dry, there are many grey areas, and I'd like to think of myself as a complex person. I refuse to be boxed.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

So with that disclaimer in place, on to the politics, as well as the consequences I'm likely to suffer for sharing it with you.

While I tend to vote Republican in most elections, I'm really more of a Libertarian. Fundamentally I believe in less taxes and minimized government interference into our lives, but I'm also very pro-defense spending and something of a hawk. From the perspective of social policy, however, I am a liberal. I believe women should have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies, that gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual ones (and suffer the same taxes) and governments shouldn't be mixing with religion, ever. Not in the classroom, not anywhere.

Of course, this Libertarian viewpoint of mine gets very interesting when it comes time to elect a President or a major government official, especially over sometimes not-so-pleasant dinner conversation with my wife Rachel and other members of my extended family. When I told my wife in the car ride home from the airport this week that I would be voting for McCain, she said to me quite flustered, "Okay, I understand your reasons, but c'mon, the man doesn't even know how to use a computer."

Well, I'm not sure exactly what to make of this one. Should your President know how to use a computer? I mean, a President is a busy guy who has to be in constant meetings and speak with other world leaders, how much time should he be spending mucking about in emails or on on web sites anyway? Doesn't he have a secretary to print out his most important emails and such?

I know that Obama is a Blackberry Junkie. Palin's use of Yahoo email is, uh, well documented.

McCain, unfortunately, "has to rely on his wife" (EDIT: Apparently, this is largely due to the fact that his Vietnam war injuries prohibit repetitive tasks that involve raising his arms such as typing which are extremely painful to him)

Does that make him less qualified to be President of the United States?


Somebody needs to get this guy a tutor.

I think that as the early Baby Boomer generation eventually dies off, these issues are going to be less and less important, as everyone living in the next two decades will have at least some exposure to computers and the Internet.  That McCain doesn't know how use a computer, access the Internet or thumb a BlackBerry doesn't really bother me, but that's certainly an easy enough problem to solve. Get the guy a tutor, who can spend a few hours with him over a few weeks showing him how to use a PC -- or dare I say it, a Mac, and teach him how to use basic applications such as a Web Browser and web-based email. I sent my own father-in-law to a PC/Windows class a few years ago, and he's the same age as McCain and is doing just fine. Now, if it turns out that McCain doesn't know how to type, well... There's always Mavis Beacon. (EDIT: He can type, but its physically painful for him)

At the end of the day, what I want from a President is experience, that I know that can deal with the issues that we are likely to face in the years ahead, has personal integrity and values that are similar to mine, at least when it comes to making decisions about important problems our country now has to address, not matters which are largely symbolic in nature (i.e., abortion, personal religious beliefs) and will not affect us anytime soon.

If it turns out that the man we elect doesn't know how to use a computer, that is a personal deficit that he alone has to deal with, because the Internet and use of personal technology enriches us in many tangible ways. Hopefully, he'll recognize that this is something he will want to  rectify, but if he doesn't, I trust that he will have advisers that can educate him on the important aspects of technology that affect our nation so he'll make the right decisions.

Must our President be computer literate? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Hardware, Browser, CXO, Collaboration, Government, Government US


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The man with the BlackBerry gets my vote

    Although I fundamentally agree with you that being the
    leader of the free world is a bit more important that
    being able to check email (and certainly requires a
    much broader range of qualifications), I have to say
    that someone so out of touch with a tool that everyone
    in this country should be (and largely, is) using for
    business, school, and personal purposes just might be
    out of touch with the direction of said free world.

    This isn't your grandfather we're talking about who
    now at least knows how to function with a computer.
    We're talking about a guy who will be highly
    influential in setting educational, economic, and
    business priorities for the country. I know plenty of
    older people who have stayed current with technology
    because they believe it's important. To dismiss it as
    something not worth his time is telling.

    Give me the guy with the BlackBerry (as well as a
    political agenda with which I largely agree). The
    tech isn't a deal breaker for me, but it's one more
    reason for me to vote for Obama.

    • This is absurd really.

      So how does using a computer really matter how in-touch someone is with society. Remember a computer is only a tool, not a lifestyle. Some make it out as though Mccain couldn't learn how to do a google search or check email. I am sure he can, its not that hard people. Maybe, just maybe he doesn't really have a need to use one. I know plenty of people and including myself who could go without using a computer and still be the same exact person they were when they did use a computer. This kind of reminds me of high school when everything is political and people make fun of others for ridiculous things and I bet no one could give me a true reason why using a computer makes a hill of beans. And just because someone knows how to use one and has a blackberry doesn't mean he is anymore wise than the other guy. I think I will stick with the man that knows what he is in for and knows how to deal with issues in a common sense manner and keeping the overweight government that we already have under control. I may agree with Obama on some things, but Robin Hooding the rich people is not my kind of life in America. Sure some CEO's are overpaid, but what happened to hard work,risk, and reward in this country. No one should ever have to pay over half of what they make to the government no matter how much you make and as it stands now millions of American's do. Whatever happended to middle school economics, I think that is much more important than using a computer folks.
      • i agree

        it would be nice if the next president understood something the world outside the US.

        Or how about understanding economics?

        If we could find someone who understood the requirements of the job, I couldn't care less if they had ever touched a mouse.

        Unfortunately, the disgraceful process we use to elect this individual drives away anyone who's actually qualified.
        • McCain is eminently qualified

          To miss this is to intentionally overlook a long career, something that cannot be found in McCain's opposition.
    • I'm With You

      Since ZDnet is now a political blog, I have to stand with the
      person who stands with the man with the BlackBerry.

      My dad wasn't able to make the transition to the digital
      age either. I know that John McCain is in the same group.
      How can he understand the issues of the internet
      generation if he can't understand computers.

      Obama is future McCain is the past. McCain has
      experience, but it's the wrong kind of experience.

      Give me the future, you can keep the past.
    • Disability

      A lot of people don't that know that McCain will have to
      have both shoulders replaced during his first term.
      Besides, he as had more than one bout with a potentially
      fatal form of cancer.

      Never mind that we all know that McCain doesn't use
      computers. He has a good chance of not making it through
      his fist term. That would leave us with President Palin.

      If that isn't enough to make you vote for Obama, you're
      either stupid or a bigot.
      • Tyipcal leftie remark...

        You lefties are all the same: since you have no decent arguments to make, you simply label people with inflammatory / derogatory remarks like "stupid" and "bigot". Oh, and how you lefties LOVE that word "bigot"! I get you spit all over your computer screen when you were spelling that out to yourself! Get a life and learn to do some real research. Barak "I'm not really a Muslim until I'm in office" Obama will be the death of the US. But since I already live in a socialist totalitarian leftie "utopia" (NZ), I only have to worry about dealing with the leftie nutters and their "save the planet, kill the people" greenie eco-terrorists, not the ones you're about to vote into power. Still, it is high time the US got judged for polluting the planet: the garbage that comes out of Hollywood and your porn site alone is worth the tsunami ready to wipe you away, never mind your continual meddling in everyone else's affairs and being the most self-absorbed materialistic people on the face of the earth... See, even us conservatives can make inflammatory and derogatory remarks with the best of them :P
        • is the guy shouting "leftie"...

          is the guy shouting "leftie" REALLY giving a lecture on not labeling people? Hmmm.
        • Wait... did you just insult American Pr0n?

          How dare you. How DARE you.

          Look, if not for pr0n, we as a WORLD would not have made so much high-tech progress, especially in the area of high-bandwidth market penetration (!) as well as portable power (AKA "portable pr0n"). Just ask the Japanese, who are are HUGE and DIVERSE consumers of pr0n.

          Pr0n has created jobs like you wouldn't believe... from the hung actors and hot actresses risking their health and flesh for other peoples' enjoyment, to the web developers and camerapeople who disseminate the media, to the marriage counselors who have to try fixing homes broken by Internet Pr0n addiction... PR0N CREATES JOBS.

          This is especially important in sexually liberated and nubile countries such as the USA. Though politicians never officially acknowledge it, the massive, throbbing, multi-billion-dollar pr0n industry fuels the rest of the nation like you wouldn't believe, which, in turn, fuels the rest of the WORLD'S economies. Including YOURS. Talk about a Money Shot!

          So konkreet, you need to shut your word-hole. By all means, spout all the anti-Democratic garbage you want... but we gotta draw the LINE at PR0N!!!

      • Look up the word bigot

        and you might just realize that you are one.
        • no, don't get it

          No where in his message did he place any undue prejudice on McCain in any shape or form. As far as bigotry goes, republicans have a strangle hold on that one, their records regarding anyone who isn't christian, caucasian, conservative, straight, anti-abortion, the list goes on and on....
      • Stupid or bigot

        I disagree. For one President Palin would be much better than president Obama, or President Biden, and maybe even President McCain.
        Obama is way too far to the left to be even considered. His views and associations are too far out for me. McCain was not my choice during the primaries--I voted Huckabee, but since he is the one on the ballot, I voted him over the radical leftist. I can't believe anyone with an education/desire for a better America would vote for Sen Obama.
        As for computer literacy, it would be good to have a knowledge of the capabilites and use of computers, not necessarily using one.
        As it is, I voted on Oct 31, to avoid standing in line for four hours as I did in 2000 or 2004, I can't remember which.
    • Should your President be literate?

      That would be a good starting point for a country that thinks it can tell the rest of the world how it is whilst its own short sighted greed creates an economy which is collapsing in on itself, in a nation in a permanent state of digestive trance ....
  • Yes, he should!

    I don't expect the president to be a software developer or anything - although that would probably make the perfect president. He should be knowledgable when it comes to tech related issues. Technology is a major part of our lives and this exceeds things like email. The president of the most powerful country in the world, and the world's technology leader should be somewhat tech savvy.

    I don't think that experience counts for much when it's the wrong kind of experience. A president needs to be intelligent and logical, and open-minded. While he/she can't be a Wall Street Banker, an Engineer, and a Doctor, the president should possess some basic knowledge in these areas.

    The fact that McCain doesn't know how to perform certain basic tasks on a computer reflects more than just his lack of technical know-how. It shows that he's the sort of person who is stuck in his ways and is not easily swayed. This sort of behavior can be self destructive, and it's not the sort of president I'd like to see.
    General C#
    • You start this sentence with "the fact" - it isn't.

      You said:
      "The [i]fact[/i] that McCain doesn't know how to perform certain basic tasks on a computer reflects more than just his lack of technical know-how. It shows that he's the sort of person who is stuck in his ways and is not easily swayed. This sort of behavior can be self destructive, and it's not the sort of president I'd like to see."

      It is NOT a "fact" - McCain doesn't use computers because it's painful for him to do so. That doesn't mean he doesn't understand technology. If you would actually investigate these things for yourself, rather than parroting the propaganda of the Obama campaign, you'd know that.

      Any of you ever seen Monty Python's "Meaning of Life"? Remember the scene where the middle aged couple on vacation is supposed to carry on a conversation about philosophers, a subject they know absolutely nothing about? Very often, these ZDNet message postings remind me of that scene.
      Steve Summers
      • Well perhaps you didn't hear what McCain himself said.

        It was McCain himself whom said that he needs someone to access the internet for him, and he has someone print out his emails for him. He mentioned his own lack of knowledge in that area, so please don't make it seem as though I'm making this up.

        Regardless of his physical capabilities - which should perhaps ignite another debate - my question is if a major tech related issue comes onto his desk, does he possess the knowledge to deal with it? It's one think to have advisers, and another to be totally in the dark.
        General C#
        • No President can be an expert in all areas ....

          ... nor do they have to be. That is why they have a cabinet and advisors.
        • In the dark?

          Firstly, he is not in the dark necessarily about computers. He participates in using email, he just needs someone to help since he can't raise his arms long enough to do it for an extended period of time. Secondly, I would rather have a president who is in the "dark" concerning how to use a computer than a president who thinks we have 58 states or thinks that Iran is a tiny country and therefore not a major threat.
          • In the Dark? 58 states!

            Great comment! It seems that no one wants to go there and you did. This is the true focus of who is more qualified.
        • McCain

          has used the internet, viral videos and YouTube quite effectively
          during this campaign. Empirical evidence refutes your claim that
          he is computer illiterate.