Is “Do You Use the Internet?” a Litmus Test for Politicians?

The elections are now over and – as you know – I stayed away from any political entries into this blog. This is, in part, because I just could not see myself become yet another voice in this cacophony of voices and opinions associated with our recent presidential elections. Most of the issues that filled news-channels were irrelevant: Joe the Plumber, Palin’s hair, and many of the policy debates missed the mark. For example, I learned more about energy from T. Boone Pickens than from either Obama or from McCain.

But, there is a question that has bothered me during this entire electoral campaign. Can somebody be a good leader, or a good president, who does not use the internet? I have concluded that this is not possible, and  thanks to America, we will never figure out whether I am correct in this assertion.

Internet technology is not like other fields of technology. I can easily imagine a person becoming a successful president who does not drive a car, or, who does not have an iPod, or, a person who is not addicted to his blackberry or his iPhone. Such a president may actually have time to focus on important things, and may be good for the environment.

But, I cannot imagine having a president who does not regularly use the internet. Here are my top-two reasons why.

The internet has no borders. The internet provides a space for people to meet and connect which extends well beyond one group and country. The rich girl with the Jaguar she got for her birthday looks at the very same page as the homeless guy who spends his one dollar in an internet café. People meet each other and communicate about issues that move them– big and small. I remember talking with a high-school student from Northern England about general relativity and his family’s economic struggles. I talked with a woman in Indonesia about race-car driving and covering her face. The bottom line is that it is a lot easier to learn about the world the way it really is – a complicated, connected space in which we all affect each other somehow. It’s a lot easier to hate who you don’t know.

So many people think of people in inner cities differently than people in their neighborhoods. This is one of the biggest travesties common in the US that I have never seen in Europe. If there is a murder in Zurich, it still bothers people in Heiligenschwendi (where I grew up), hundred miles away. So, why do murders in Detroit not cause sleepless nights in Ann Arbor? They should – and they have for me. There is no such thing as disconnected pockets in which injustice does not affect us. I will never understand people who think it is not their problem that the high-school dropout rate in Detroit is as high as it is. Only people without internet can think that way. And, I pray to God, that people with internet can change this situation for the better.

The internet teaches about young people. You cannot understand the way young people think if you don’t use the internet. I am the first generation of people who used computers, email and finally internet as soon as these tools were available. I can now see important differences between me and my students. I was not able to identify those a few years back. For example, how do you proof-read a paper? I don’t know a single person older than me that proofs on the monitor. I don’t know a single person younger than 30 who prints paper to proof them.

This, by the way, is one of the greatest advantages of being a professor. There are not many people who are as sensitized to change as professors who keep their ear to the ground. You will never understand the facebook and twitter generation if you don’t own a facebook profile. You will not as easily find internet savvy people to work in your business if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile. No young person should trust a leader who requests resumes on special “resume paper” any more than we expect letters to be sealed with a ring that we carry on our pinky-finger.
I can not imagine voting for anybody who does not use the internet to extend his knowledge and who does not learn about the generation of leaders of tomorrow.

There is a second question I want us to think about. Are there other technologies that a political candidate needs to be familiar with? I know many of you will immediately think about global change, about the developing world etc. But, remember the premise of this question. If the candidate does not actively know or use this technology, he is out of the question. I want to come back to this later.

Comments (1)
  • automation

    December 17, 2008

    Thanks good article

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