Does the president need to be a computer user?

Desk full o\' techAn interesting conversation has been taking place over at the Web Strategy blog, written by Jeremiah Owyang, a social computing analyst at Forrester Research. He asks if the president needs to know how to use a computer and the Web to do his or her job effectively.

The question was prompted by John McCain’s admission that he’s computer illiterate and relies on the good missus for all of his technology needs. Jeremiah says, “I don’t believe it’s a critical job requirement, despite it being a very powerful intelligence gathering and communication tool.”

The commenters on his site seem to be split roughly evenly, perhaps leaning a little more toward “it’s not necessary.”

One commenter suggests that he expects “the President to have ability to do independent verification of facts. Such facts are increasingly located on the Internet.” As if the president — any president — would be fishing around the Huffington Post, MN Indy, Minnesota Democrats Exposed and the like to find The Truth. (By mentioning those three sites in series, I do not mean to suggest that those three sites are in any way similar to each other.) And as if the Internet doesn’t have the potential to be just as flawed as, say, international intelligence reports.

Several commenters suggest that a computer illiterate president would be ill-equipped to make important policy decisions regarding Net neutrality, warrantless wiretaps, technology budgets for schools, advances and changes in communication, and so on. But when was the last time a president informed his scientific research priorities and policies by conducting experiments in a lab or flying to the moon? Need he be a criminal or a defense attorney to make educated judgments about crime and corrections?

It would be nice, as many of those commenters suggested, if the president understood the impact of computers, the Web and communication technology. It would be wonderful if he were to be open-minded enough to see the big picture. But suggesting that he would actually need to be a Facebook or Twitter addict to “get it,” or that he would need to dig through the conspiracy-theory-riddled forums of the Web’s nether regions to find The Truth? That’s about as necessary as Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem.

What say you?

Photo courtesy of kchbrown on Flickr

4 thoughts on “Does the president need to be a computer user?

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    Kind of an interesting question. Don’t you think a person can be highly engaged intellectually and explore ideas and curiosities without internet savvy? Some educators will say that today’s students, despite the instantaneous world of information at their fingertips still don’t know what it is to “think”. In fact, thinking skills and creative problem solving aptitude may have actually atrophied. Nonetheless a fabulous tool for facilitating that exploration.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    I agree Mr. Lang. The Internet is an information delivery device, not information itself. As long as the President a) surrounds himself with a diverse group of computer- and Internet-savvy staff and b) posses the analytical mind, intellectual curiousity, wisdom and core decency necessary to use their computer-based knowldge well, being personally computer savvy shouldn’t be a prerequisite.

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