Friday, April 3, 2015

Emails and Older Politicians

What is it with politicians over 60 – a lot of them – and digital communications? Cell phones rolled out in the 1980s, but mobile bandwidth didn’t really open the door to smart phones until 1999; most of that growth was after 2000 (there are over 1.4 billion smart phones out there today). Emails began their most rapid growth in 1993. Texting (SMS, MMS, etc.) didn’t begin to become pervasive until the mid-1990s. Facebook, which devastated it predecessor MySpace, didn’t even launch until 2004; Twitter in 2006.
To younger generations, digital communications have been the mainstay of inter-personal linkage for about two decades, all or most of their adult lives for the majority of us. For folks over 60, they had two or three decades of communications before most of this electronic “stuff” was the norm. If you’re over 70 or 80, well… you get it. Faxes replaced the “telex,” and paper (“snail mail”) correspondence through the mails, even handwritten notes, were just how it was done.
While lots of older folks think they got “modern” with emails, the truth for most of them is simply that using digital communications was (is?) intimidating and just plain scary. But for a politician to admit being uncomfortable with electronic communications was simply to admit that they were old and out of touch with the electorate, which was not considered particularly smart. For too many younger voters these days, even communicating by email is “yesterday’s technology.”
Oh for some politicos, anxious to establish their “cool with the Evangelicals” anti-scientific bent, they wear their technological ignorance like a badge of honor. For example, on NBC’s Meet the Press (March 8th), Republican Lindsey Graham (Senator, South Carolina) – who doesn’t turn 60 until this July – was discussing subpoenaing Hillary Clinton to discuss her missing or misdirected emails while Secretary of State. His response when asked about his own email practices was staggering: “I don’t email,” Graham said. “You can have every email I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”
67-year-old Democrat Hillary Clinton is in a heap o’ controversy over her “explanation” that to simplify not having to carry two smart phones, she stepped over Department of State policies to use her personal smart phone and personal account (gee, 30,000 personal emails seem to have been deleted) for both official and personal functions. She simply forwarded official emails to State for archiving and storage. 55,000 emails were turned over for release to the relevant authorities.
It gets worse, however. “[The] State Department disclosed on Friday [March 13th] that until [February 2015] it had no way of routinely preserving senior officials’ emails. Instead, the department relied on individual employees to decide if certain emails should be considered public records, and if so, to move them onto a special record-keeping sever, or print them out and manually file them for preservation.
“This patchwork system, reflecting a broader confusion and slowness throughout the government as federal agencies struggle to catch up with the digital age, raises the possibility that some emails from Mrs. Clinton to other State Department officials may have been lost altogether.” New York Times, March 13th. Oy! Even the State Department was intimidated by the digital era…
Well, it didn’t take much to roust Lindsey Graham on the evils of the Clinton email scandal, but what about former Florida Governor, Republican Jeb Bush? At 62, Bush fits the “old person” paradigm (as do I). He too rebuked Clinton for her email controversy, holding up his own record as an example of proper and transparent conduct. The Dems countered with a “not so fast” response and suggested that during Bush’s 1999-2007 tenure in Florida, he followed a similar “one phone” path as attributed to Clinton. But that was about a decade ago.
Bush has released a few hundred thousand emails from his time as governor, and his aides say the rest are accessible by the state of Florida through freedom of information requests. He did not release emails he deemed private.” Reuters, March 13th. He denied that he used his personal email address for official communications, however. “But it took Mr. Bush seven years after leaving office to comply fully with a Florida public records statute requiring him to turn over emails he sent and received as governor, according to records released Friday [March 13th].
“Mr. Bush delivered the latest batch of 25,000 emails in May 2014, seven and a half years after leaving the Statehouse and just as he started to contemplate a potential run for the White House, according to a newly disclosed letter written by his lawyer.” New York Times, March 13th.
Okay, okay, none of this looks good, and each of the above three individuals are unofficial candidates for the 2016 run at the presidency. But nobody seems to be pointing to the fact that while most Americans are reasonably fluid and totally comfortable with e-communications, this just isn’t the case for most older Americans, even if they actually and frequently indulge in such “modern” digital connectivity themselves (or have their secretaries read and send emails, as lots of older executives, lawyers and elected officials often do).
I even wrote a book (look at the above right corner of this blog for specifics) for people of all ages scared to ask questions about communicating in a digital era for fear of coming across as ignorant or misinformed… even when they really need to know! And all of these candidates fit squarely into a seemingly Luddite or semi-Luddite elderly age demographic. Their experience and wisdom on polices issues may benefit from their age, but how in the world do they ever admit how they still do not fully understand communicating in a digital era, when issues from net neutrality to digital polarization are in the headlines every day. But maybe, just maybe, they really still aren’t “there” yet the way most Americans just take for granted. Sometimes the obvious explanation is the best explanation. Get over it! It just is. Pong, anyone?
 I’m Peter Dekom, and how many times have you faked it with a technology you may not fully understand?

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