Sunday, September 7, 2008

Consequences of Digital Illiteracy

Disclaimer: This post is not about politics, nor is my intent that it be political. It is about technology and digital literacy (or digital fluency).

How is Technology Affecting This Election?

Like many people, I have been following this US presidential election and noticing how much technology has changed things this time around. The essential question that emerges for me from this spectacle is, "What are the consequences of digital illiteracy?"

When looking at the role of technology in this election it is easy to see some of the triumphs. First there were the YouTube debates last winter that at least gave the impression that regular everyday citizens could have a greater voice. Then there was the promise by Obama to announce his running mate first via text message. Even though his pick was leaked and reported first on the cable news the stunt gathered for the Obama camp an impressive bank of emails and cell phone numbers. It will be interesting to see how these are used as we draw closer to the election.

The third thing I have noticed was how much social networks have played a role in this election. Obama is the first US Presidential candidate to use one as his campaign website. While members of this social networking site can't do much more than donate money and get their friends to donate money it is the start of what could be a new model of how to tap into the power of the social web to aide in the running of a campaign.

What the Obama campaign has done with technology seems to contrast strongly with what I see coming from the McCain camp and I can't help but think their lack of fluency with digital media is going to hurt or has already hurt his campaign.

Back in July the New York Times published an interview with McCain where he said he was learning how to get on the internet himself and relied on those around him to help him do things on the web. Here is an excerpt from that article:

This brings us to what I find a striking contrast in how social networking has affected this campaign season. Since McCain has picked Sarah Palin as his running mate there has been a firestorm of controversial debate online about Palin's values and her ability to effectively mother her own children. Most of this debate stems from the circumstances surrounding her 17 year old daughter's pregnancy. However, things get worse when you look at the boyfriend's MySpace page or even the boyfriend's sister's Myspace page (which have both now become private but the damage I am afraid has already been done). Nevermind the whole teenage pregnancy issue or the vulgar self description that reportedly appeared on Levi Johnston's (the daughter's boyfriend) MySpace page. On Levi's sister's page there appeared this photo:

The girl sitting in the chair is Levi's sister and the baby she is holding is Trig. This image is most likely the image that set in motion the rumor online that Trig is not really Sarah Palin's son but is her Grandson. Whether that is true or not, the political damage has probably already been done. I can't help but think that if McCain were more technically literate he might have had the foresight to investigate his running mate's own web presence before tapping her as his #2. I guess in November we will see if his own inability to use the internet will hurt McCain or not. One thing I think is a pretty safe bet is if McCain-Palin win in November we probably won't see any love for MySpace or other social networking sites from that administration.

What skeletons do you have in your online closets? Couple suggestions:

1. Google yourself regularly (or sign up for Google Alerts and let them push new sites with your name, company name, or username as they are posted)

2. Watch what other people around you post

3. If your kids have an account on a site like MySpace or Facebook create one for yourself and insist that they make you one of their "friends." See what they are posting and follow what their friends are posting.

4. If you are hiring a new employee, do a search for their name.

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