I am not at all relieved that John McCain, an acknowledged computer illiterate, is now “learning to get online,” without help.
Here’s what he told the New York Times:
Q: But do you go on line for yourself?
Mr. McCain: They go on for me. I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need – including going to my daughter’s blog first, before anything else.
Some people are equating McCain’s Internet ignorance with his age. But I think those folks are dangerously missing the point.
My dad is a couple years older than McCain, and I’ve lost count of how many computers he has built from scratch, starting with itty bitty pieces and an empty CPU case. Most days he emails me so often that it seems like he is in the same room, and not 1,729 miles away.
My mom, who was born the same year as McCain, first used computers in 1969, and by the early 1990s was running a university library Web site. She still finds email more convenient and efficient than picking up the phone.
Conversely, I have met and even worked with people in their 30s who still need help “logging on,” and who sincerely fear the Intertubes, bloggers, MySpacers, Facebookers and other online aliens.
This is not about age.
It is about evolving and learning, which requires a healthy, normal curiosity.
I remember my favorite English lit professor, Richard Mitchell, discovering that a young man had elected to take his class even though it was not a requirement for his degree in public safety, en route to joining the New Jersey State police.
“And then I realized,” said Dr. Mitchell, “that I would much rather be pulled over by a trooper who had read Milton, than one who had not.”
Now we have a presidential candidate who isn’t even curious enough to check out email, as shown by this exchange in the same Times Q&A:
Q: Do you use a blackberry or email?
Mr. McCain: No
Mark Salter: He uses a BlackBerry, just ours.
Mr. McCain: I use the Blackberry, but I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail.
Would I rather have a president who is curious or one who is not?
Mom and Dad and Dr. Mitchell all taught me that it is OK to not know everything, but it is not OK to disengage your brain.