Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Must A President Be A Techie?

This week's issue of Newsweek contains an op-ed piece from resident writer Anna Quindlen about the need (in her opinion) for our nation's president to be technologically literate. In other words, a techie.

She first discusses in her editorial how Abraham Lincoln was a techie himself, at least as much as possible in the 1860's. Quindlen explains how Lincoln made use of that era's "Internet," the telegraph, as a means to communicate with his generals, thus having an advantage over Confederate forces who didn't have as much access to telegraphy. She refers to the recent book "Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails" by Tom Wheeler, in which the author describes how Lincoln pushed for the spread of the new technology across the country in order to achieve much better communication.

Then Ms. Quindlen contrasts Lincoln with John McCain, who freely admits that he's technologically illiterate and has never been online. She equates this with being out of touch and behind the curve in today's world. She makes a point how Al Qaeda is technology savvy and how our next president must be as well. Her arguments are compelling.

However, I'm not so sure I agree, even though I'm a professional techie myself. I don't know that it's necessary for our president to be at ease with computers and other modern technological marvels. It's critical that our spy agencies and defense services use all the technology possible for the nation's homeland defense. And it's crucial that our chief executive be willing to listen to advice from people who are technical experts.

But must a person know how to use email or build a website in order to be our commander-in-chief? An interesting question, but I think the answer is no. What is your opinion?

1 comment:

Adam said...

This is a great question, and an interesting book I hadn't heard about! I recently read The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage that looks at the impact of the Telegraph in the 19th century. Very interesting. He didn't mention Lincoln at all that I recall.

I would tend to agree with you: A leader need not be keeping up technologically. Wisdom is a slow process, while technology is fast. They're not mutually exclusive, but one is harder in the context of the other.

But one advantage Obama had was his campaign's harnessing the Internet to crowdfund, etc.

 
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