The offline mind

incurious \(ˌ)in-ˈkyu̇r-ē-əs\ lacking a normal or usual curiosity : uninterested <a blank incurious stare> synonyms: see indifferent

– Merriam-Webster

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.

So.

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.

To question is the answer.

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Fried squirrel, politics and the media

Some followup notes from my delightful conversation this morning on KNPR’s State of Nevada, with host Dave Berns and his panel of so-called “witty academics.” (The audio with David Damore, Ken Fernandez and me from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Eric Herzik of University of Nevada, Reno, is here.)

During the show, I mentioned a wonderful resource at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which has been running a campaign coverage index showing how much attention the media is giving each presidential candidate. This one, covering the week of Jan. 6 through Jan. 11, shows Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton got far more media attention for her New Hampshire “comeback” than did the also victorious Republican Senator John McCain, who had not won in Iowa. Moreover, this index suggests that Democrat John Edwards is almost being ignored by the media.

One person who called in to the show wondered if the media is shying away from him because of Edwards’ criticism of the kind of big corporations that own the media. I wasn’t as articulate as I would have liked to have been on air, so here is an addendum:

My two cents is that this is more a reflection of “pack journalism” than any philosophical thing on the part of the journalists. I could be wrong, but news organizations are lousy places to pull off a controlled conspiracy thing — they’re generally too blessed disorganized and full of ornery back-talkers.

The screw ups I’ve seen over the years stem more from laziness and fear than some order from on high. The fear comes two ways. First, there’s the fear of getting beaten. If everyone else is covering Candidate X, you’d better do it too or you will look stupid. Second, there is the fear of someone yelling at the publisher because a reporter didn’t cover their event — or because a reporter asked impolite questions. That is very real and very true.

I was pressured that way in my coverage of Texas gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush, as I wrote about here.

Fortunately, everyone seems to have a digital camera and a recorder these days, along with access to free publishing tools on the Web. So it’s a lot harder for candidates and their spinmeisters to squelch things.

Also, I didn’t have a chance during the show to mention a couple of other fine journalism resources for election information. The Las Vegas Sun’s ace database folks put together a truly nifty interactive map that shows voting, party affiliation and contribution information by Zip Code for Clark County. Check it out and play with it — the data tells the story.

And another friend of mine over at Congressional Quarterly sent me a link to CQ Politics Primary Guide — nice stuff and good, accessible information.

Now, a reward for reading this far down.

I really wasn’t joking about Republican candidate Mike Huckabee claiming to have fried squirrel on a popcorn popper in college.

Here thanks to the good folks at Talking Points Memo, is the video:

Just because I am a calloused, cynical journalist, I do wonder if a popcorn popper actually gets hot enough to fry a squirrel.

But then, I wonder about a lot of things.

Perhaps some enterprising reporter will put it to a truth test.