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article imageOp-Ed: Should You Care if the Next U.S. President is a Tech Nerd?

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By David Silverberg     Sep 28, 2008 in Politics
Barack Obama hopes to appoint a Chief Technology Officer. John McCain wants to award $300 million to the inventor of an eco-friendly car battery. Now more than ever, the tech policies of candidates are under scrutiny as wired voters have their say.
Digital Journal -- By now, you've likely heard the tale of the e-tape: Barack Obama is rarely seen without a BlackBerry in hand, and he's been known to use Skype to chat with his daughters. If he makes it to the White House, he wants to appoint the first Chief Technology Officer, a high-level politician who will ensure that every federal agency has "best-in-class technologies." He supports Net neutrality, a nationwide switch to electronic medical records and a venture capital fund to bring bold renewable energy ideas to market.
From the McCain camp, the Senator also outlined a tech plan: he called for a "comprehensive, interoperable emergency communications plan" last March. He also promoted a proposal to offer $300 million to whoever creates an auto battery that surpasses the innovation of current plug-in and electric cars. He wants to keep the Internet free of taxes, and he's gone on record saying he would deploy technology to allow doctors to work across state lines.
On a more superficial level, take a look at how the candidates stand on the Web popularity front. According to TechPresident, which follows the Web appeal of each candidate, Barack Obama's website receives 2.2 million weekly unique visitors compared to McCain's website count of 849,500. On their respective YouTube channels, Obama enjoys more than three times as many views as McCain. But when it comes to blog mentions on the Web, Technorati reports McCain gets 7,500 nods daily while Obama is named on blogs 5,000 times.
This year, voters are increasingly made aware of how each candidate approach Web policies, technology investment and personal PC use. Headlines dedicated to McCain's apparent computer ignorance stir questions about the efficacy of an un-wired President. And Obama's visits to Google to unveil IT proposals make voters wonder if his meetings are sincere or pandering in disguise.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt has already cast his tech-prez vote. He said, "Senator Obama's plan would help make sure that the Internet remains a free and open platform, and that America maintains an atmosphere of high-tech growth and innovation."
Christopher Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs, recently told Forbes the Obama campaign is embracing technology to make government more transparent, but the McCain camp is "coming to understand the power of the Internet."
Judging by the evidence, it seems there are two different approaches: one candidate is on the leading edge of bringing new media and tech policies to the forefront of the political conversation, while another candidate is playing catch-up. McCain has good intentions when he wants to invest in renewable energy, but his other policies on tech and science are strangely vague.
His Technology Plan on his website says about innovation: "Offering simple common sense solutions to real problems is at the core of the McCain's innovation agenda." That means what?
Obama's Technology Plan offers some more promise, although it is also bordering on obtuse: "Obama is also opening up the campaign and giving average Americans a chance to offer opinions and information on important policy issues and Americans have responded: over 15,000 policy ideas have been submitted through the web site." There aren't specifics, but at least Obama voters are churning out progressive ideas.
Then again, one has to wonder if a wired president is crucial. Does it matter if Obama or McCain take advantage of Twitter? Should a Chief Technology Officer become a top priority?
Consider what you will about the importance of the Web in today's life, but a tech-friendly president could only usher in economic growth and environmentally friendly innovation. America needs a president who understands the complications of Net neutrality, for example, or why wireless carrier competition will increasingly become a hot-button issue for Americans.
McCain's spokespeople have argued his tech-savvy advisers can work on policies unknown to the Senator. True, but are voters electing advisers or a President? As much as McCain is finally finding his Web voice, it would be more comforting to know exactly what he plans to do with the myriad technological and IT problems plaguing the U.S.
Brian Reich, author of the book Media Rules!: Mastering Today's Technology to Connect With and Keep Your Audience, says he knows why McCain isn't flirting with the tech-friendly ideas bandied about by Obama. "He doesn't see it as an electoral priority to talk about the role technology is going to play in our society going forward, because he's not going to raise any money from Silicon Valley liberals. I think it's both a policy deficiency in his platform and a political deficiency in his strategy."
I'm pretty sure the Xbox Live vote or the smartphone demographic won't be the swing "state" in November. But politics and technology are blending this year like never before, giving geeks, nerds and Web watchers a chance to choose a candidate that speaks to their values. No matter if they're a PC or Mac.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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