I have a 78-year old great aunt. She’s fabulous. She loves to cook and read and listen to Frank Sinatra. She goes out with her friends, to church and visits with our family members. When my grandma first started using a computer to play card games and get recipes about ten years ago, I suggested that my great aunt do the same. I told her she could send e-mails to her friends, look at pictures, read new stories from all over the world, go shopping… and she wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, she told me that she was “too old” for a computer. And that it was a waste of time for her to even try because she was going to die soon.
Fast forward to 2008 when we have a 71-year old senator running for president of the United States. On July 14, the Telegraph from Great Britain published a story about how Sen. John McCain is computer illiterate. In the story, they claim that he doesn’t surf the Internet or send e-mail:
The former US Navy pilot, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war after his jet was shot down over Vietnam, did himself no favours when asked by “The New York Times” which websites he looks at.
“Brooke and Mark show me Drudge, obviously, everybody watches, for better or for worse, Drudge,” he said, referring to his aides Brooke Buchanan and Mark Salter, who direct him to the Drudge Report website.
He added: “Sometimes I look at Politico. Sometimes RealPolitics, sometimes,” an apparent reference to the website RealClearPolitics.com.
At this point, Miss Buchanan and Mr McCain’s wife Cindy interjected that he also read his daughter Meghan’s blog.
“Excuse me, Meghan’s blog,” Mr McCain said, before remarking that he also read blogs by Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper, the reporters interviewing him.
“And we also look at the blogs from Michael [Cooper] and from you [Mr Nagourney] that may not be in the newspaper, that are just part of your blog.”
When asked if he went online himself, the Arizona senator responded: “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.”
After Mr McCain conceded that he did not use a BlackBerry or email, Mr Salter butted in to say: “He uses a BlackBerry, just ours.” Mr McCain said: “I use the Blackberry, but I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail.
“I read e-mails all the time, but the communications that I have with my friends and staff are oral and done with my cell phone. I have the luxury of being in contact with them literally all the time. We now have a phone on the plane that is usable on the plane, so I just never really felt a need to do it.
“But I do – could I just say, really – I understand the impact of blogs on American politics today and political campaigns. I understand that.
“And I understand that something appears on one blog, can ricochet all around and get into the evening news, the front page of The New York Times. So, I do pay attention to the blogs. And I am not in any way unappreciative of the impact that they have on entire campaigns and world opinion.”
Mr Obama always carries his BlackBerry with him and is often seen on his campaign plane tapping out emails. The internet has been central to his candidacy, allowing him to establish a network of grassroots activists and attract small donations.
Last month, Mark Soohoo, deputy director of Mr McCain’s e-campaign, was mocked for insisting: “You don’t necessarily have to use a computer to understand how it shapes the country.” He also stated: “John McCain is aware of the Internet. This is a man who has a very long history of understanding on a range of issues.”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Now, granted I am nearly 50 years younger than him and work in the technology industry. But there is no way that I am okay with the leader of the free world being incapable of Googling himself. Or sending an important Oval memo. I mean, REALLY?
In response to this report, the Associated Press wrote an article on the web usage trends of American seniors.
Here are a few interesting facts from the AP article:
- Blogs have been buzzing recently over McCain’s admission that when it comes to the Internet, “I’m an illiterate who has to rely on his wife for any assistance he can get.” And the 71-year-old presumptive Republican presidential nominee, asked about his Web use last week by the New York Times, said that aides “go on for me. I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself.”
- Only 35 percent of Americans over age 65 are online, according to data from April and May compiled by the Pew Internet Project at the Pew Research Center.
- “About three-quarters of white, college-educated men age over 65 use the Internet,” says Susannah Fox, director of the project. “John McCain is an outlier when you compare him to his peers,” Fox says. “On one hand, a U.S. senator has access to information sources and staff assistance that most people do not. On the other, the Internet has become such a go-to resource that it’s a curiosity to hear that someone doesn’t rely on it the way most Americans do.”
- McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan presented a somewhat updated picture when contacted by The Associated Press on Friday: “He’s fully capable of browsing the Internet and checking Web sites,” Buchanan said. “He has a Mac and uses it several times a week. He’s working on becoming more familiar with the Internet.”
- “He needs the self-empowerment” of going online himself, says Dichter. “There are too many people surrounding John McCain who are willing to print an e-mail for him” –or do a search on his behalf, like the aides who, he says, show him the Drudge Report. “But that cheats him of an opportunity to let his own mind take him to the next link,” says Dichter. “If he doesn’t know what links are available, he will only get exactly what he’s asking for, and nothing more.”
- One aide, Mark Soohoo, defended the senator’s lack of wiredness at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York in June by assuring the panel: “John McCain is aware of the Internet.”
Aware, is he? Oh, in that case, nevermind.