Framing Science


John McCain, in an interview with the NY Times, admitted that he does not know how to use the Web or even email. McCain, who will turn 73 in August, is well behind trends among other Americans his age. Pew reports in its latest survey that more than 30% of Americans age 65 and older are online and this figure is likely to be over 50% among college educated seniors. (For example, my 91 year old Grandfather owns a computer, sends me email, and reads my blog.)

Should we care that McCain lacks even a basic familiarity with the online world? Consider that a President McCain would probably be the only leader at the next G8 meetings who has never experienced first hand the world of globalized information and commerce. Below is the relevant discussion from the NY Times interview:

He said, ruefully, that he had not mastered how to use the Internet and relied on his wife and aides like Mark Salter, a senior adviser, and Brooke Buchanan, his press secretary, to get him online to read newspapers (though he prefers reading those the old-fashioned way) and political Web sites and blogs.

“They go on for me,” he said. “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.”

Asked which blogs he read, he said: “Brooke and Mark show me Drudge, obviously. Everybody watches, for better or for worse, Drudge. Sometimes I look at Politico. Sometimes RealPolitics.”


  1. #1 Damien
    July 14, 2008

    You know, sometimes I kind of feel sorry for John McCain. He seems like the perfect candidate for the 2000 election, where blogs were barely a factor and the web factor was much, much less. The Republicans hadn’t fucked things up just yet and America was still the most dominant country on earth in nearly every regard.

    Now everyone who pays attention is pissed off at the Republicans, and John McCain is going to go down in flames. It’s just a shame that this man’s dream is going to die an unmourned death.

    On the other hand, the Republicans have turned ugly. Very ugly. So good riddance to them, and I hope John McCain retires so we can run for his Senate seat.

    Go Obama!

  2. #2 Lassi Hippeläinen
    July 14, 2008

    Olive Riley had a blog. She was only 108 years old.

  3. #3 ian
    July 14, 2008

    What, exactly, is the learning curve McCain faces to getting online? Opening your browser and clicking?!!

  4. #4 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 14, 2008

    How much understanding does it take to turn on a computer, click an icon for a browser (I presume he can afford broadband) and click a search button or type in a url?

    This is a guy who was a fighter pilot. How can anyone be so afraid of “The internet” as to not bother to master it, especially if he plans to be the Master of the United States?

    Pathetic. Let’s hope he picks a Veep candidate who is not so afraid of technology…

  5. #5 Martin
    July 14, 2008

    I just want to make a few points here.

    1) You say he’s never experienced the world of “globalized information and commerce”.. er, well actually he has if he’s ever read a copy on the New York Times, or traded shares.

    2) I know it’s fashionable (especially in the blogosphere oddly enough) to pretend that blogging is revolutionizing mainstream media and all that guff, but it isn’t. Blogs really aren’t as earth-shattering as we like to thing, Fox probably still has far more influence over the public agenda than all blogs combined. If we’re going to be objective about this as bloggers, we could suggest that rather than McCain’s stance indicating his inability to keep up with the times, perhaps we in the blogosphere are actually inflating our own importance.

    3) McCain has an absolutely enormous campaign team, he actually has a guy in charge of blogosphere strategy, and he employs a firm that specializes in publicity campaigns in the blogosphere.

    So I’m sorry, but this picture you’re painting of a clueless old guy with a behind-the-times campaign just doesn’t wash with me.

  6. #6 Matthew C. Nisbet
    July 14, 2008

    I would be the first to tell you that bloggers tend to way over-estimate their readership and influence. I’ve argued that many times here at Framing Science.

    Nor do I dispute that McCain’s campaign obviously is employing staffers who know a lot about Internet strategy and are very savvy.

    But when a guy has been in the Senate for the past 15 years, making decisions in a world driven by Internet news and commerce, and yet he still doesn’t know how to go online to find news?

    That’s troubling. It signals a personality type and cognitive style that is rigid and not that intellectually curious. Or in addition, not that intelligent.

    We’ve had eight years with one president, cut off from reality, who doesn’t like to read and doesn’t understand the “internets,” not sure we can afford to go with a second president for another four years.

  7. #7 Vandy Alum
    July 14, 2008

    So the point you’re making is that McCain does not make a good presidential candidate b/c his lack of email exp. undermines his understanding of the Internet-fueled economy we live in.
    How about the fact that Obama’s main job experience is as a community organizer, i.e., someone who has never had to understand the bottom line, making a business grow & most importantly how govt regulations affect the start & growth (survival) of a business. All he knows is how to ask govt for more things. So that means taking more money away from all those who work to create more bureaucracies to “solve” our problems. (Does that sound like *Change* to you??)
    God help those who work hard for their dollars if he’s elected!

  8. #8 Martin
    July 14, 2008

    @Matthew: “But when a guy has been in the Senate for the past 15 years, making decisions in a world driven by Internet news and commerce, and yet he still doesn’t know how to go online to find news? That’s troubling. It signals a personality type and cognitive style that is rigid and not that intellectually curious. Or in addition, not that intelligent.”

    I see what you’re getting at, but I think you’re making far too big a leap. McCain is a Senator. Senators deal with vast quantities of information on a daily basis, and rather than drown in it, they have staff who filter that information for them. Most of the information he deals with is likely on paper, or in the library. For someone like McCain, the internet really isn’t necessarily that important when it comes to getting information, however intellectually curious he is or isn’t.

    Also, you say “world driven by Internet news and commerce”, but it’s not. The world is driven by news and commerce, which the internet is just one of many ways to access.

    But yes, I do generally see what you’re getting at.

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