WHY TECHNOLOGY MATTERS IN POLITICS

- Salon.com

- Salon.com

In taking a small break from the Olympics on this blog, here’s a post that’s more important to the state of the American electorate.

Question – how important is it for politicians to be wired?

The answer is: very.

Salon has an article on the, um, technological challenges Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has. It’s not a very flattering portrait of the man’s limitations when it comes to the Web; he alleges he’s never had a particular reason to send an email or even Google.

Come again? What year is this? This is a man whom has been part of the U.S. Congress since the 1980’s – how could he possibly be this incompetent with one of the key apparatuses – the Internet – of the American experience?

I’m still baffled how the moribund Republican Party managed to select, quite possibly, the least qualified candidate to be the prospective leader of the Free World. I suspect many folks, under no illusions from the get-go of this marathon to the White House, know that McCain’s got about as many liabilities as a Presidential candidate can have.

Never mind the fact he’s the oldest candidate ever to run – McCain’s got very little talent in using the now-classic Karl Rove-esque formula of divide-and-conquer-America-to-win-a-Presidency. His efforts to woo the Religious Right are, shall we say, a mixed result at best. He’s positively radioactive in almost every major demographic in America with the exception of white, older males (gee, that’s a stretch for McCain). Worse, his personal history and renowned temper does call into question whether he’s in a position to call out Barack Obama over questions of “values” and “morality.” Finally, why does no one seem interested in posting stories over the shady, questionable aspects of McCain’s political career pre-George W. Bush? Why is the American media still trying to paint this man as a “maverick” who suffered at the hands of his Vietnamese torturers for four years, thus automatically turning him into an American hero (if McCain qualifies as a “hero” in this day and age, man is America starved for people to admire). No one doubts he went through those terrible events, but how does any of that qualify him to be President? I was beaten up in school many times throughout my primary grades – does that make me a certified expert on conflict management among children? Hardly.

But I digress. The point of the Salon article is pretty clear: comparing McCain, a technological troglodyte, to Barack Obama is like comparing a Wright Brothers’ plane to a space shuttle. There is no comparison. Obama is profoundly connected with technology; his web site is absolutely incredible (one of the guys from Facebook, Chris Hughes, is in charge of My.BarackObama.com and it is a terrific site) and Obama himself has referenced the importance of digital technology in his platform. His policies on the Web are amazingly progressive and pro-network neutrality. This, in stark contrast to McCain, a man whom has helped out the big telecommunications companies in their efforts to further deregulate (read: raise costs) the industry and thus worsen the web experience for people paying exorbitant rates for capped, slower access no other nation would tolerate (well, except for Canada).

Here in Canada, it’s not an election year (yet) and where the candidates stand on issues of technology haven’t really been made a matter of policy. But the Conservatives do let action, or lack of it, speak louder than their words. The government’s speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil strategy to the abuses companies like Rogers, Bell and Telus heap onto Canadians when it comes to cell phone rates and traffic shaping online are well known. The Conservatives (and the Liberals) have also put forth some exceedingly ill-informed proposed bills on copyright legislation that could have been written back in 1998, considering how out-of-touch the bills are with the average citizen. Or is it just bending over backwards for big multinational conglomerates?

In any case, getting people interested in technological issues as a matter of policy is hard. Most people generally don’t care about government activities unless the affairs of government directly affects them, positively or negatively, or if there’s scandal involved. And considering the vast, vast, vast majority of people interested in issues of technology aren’t exactly known for their overwhelming participation in the democratic process (i.e. youth), it makes sense the Conservatives and Liberals don’t care much about technology or passing informed, well-considered legislation.