Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No Excuse for Being Computer Illiterate

Thank you Garrett Graff!

Some presidential candidates—you know, the ones always talking about ensuring that the United States can compete in a fast-moving, tech-savvy world—seem to be getting a pass on technological literacy. Answering a campaign-trail question earlier this year, Mitt Romney, the former entrepreneur whose high-tech background should make him the best-informed candidate, didn't seem to know the difference between the video-sharing Web site YouTube (then the fourth most popular site in the world, according to and MySpace, the social networking site (then ranked sixth). What if John Edwards had shown that he didn't know the difference between Indonesia, the fourth most populous country, and Pakistan, the sixth most populous? Or the difference between Chevron, No. 4 on the Fortune 500 list, and No. 6 General Electric? It would have been a huge gaffe, a multi-day story in which pundit after pundit decreed him unfit to lead the nation. Romney's similar faux pas didn't even muss his electoral hair.

So why is it that we blithely allow our leaders to be ignorant of the force that, probably more than any other, will drive and define the nation's economic success and reshape its society over the next 20 years? Is it because we're used to our parents or grandparents struggling to program the VCR (yes, they still use VCRs) so that it doesn't blink "12:00" all the time, or because we think it's cute that they grew up in simpler times? The humor newspaper the Onion teased that demographic earlier this fall with a mock headline reading, "Google Launches 'The Google' for Older Adults." The Onion "quoted" the project's fictional director as saying, "The Google will have all the same information currently found on regular Google, but with the added features of not stealing your credit-card numbers or giving your computer all kinds of viruses." Sure, it's sort of endearing that our parents and grandparents can't figure out how to make a cellphone work or use emoticons on AOL Instant Messenger. But our economic future and security require that we have a higher standard for our leaders.

Related: "Kids vs. Sen. Stevens: A Web-Savvy Showdown or a No-Brainer?"