business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

No matter where you stand politically, you have to agree that John McCain represents the end of an era. No, I don’t mean his policies, his war record or his age. Rather, it’s a skill that McCain lacks that I would bet no future presidential candidate will ever be without again.

John McCain, by his own admission, is a foreigner in the land of cyber-space. In fact, he’s just now learning to use a computer. Honestly, it’s a missing skill that surprised me. Both my parents are older then Sen. McCain and both have not only mastered their computer, but feel it necessary to send me more e-mail alerts and jokes than I really need.

But when it comes to Sen. McCain and his lack of tech skills the question is: does it really matter? I’d argue that the sudden attention being given this issue means the campaign has now moved past silly and into stupid season. While I believe computer skills are essential today, I’m not really sure this is the make or break issue for a President. All discussions about how this somehow makes the Senator detached are silliness provided he understands how computers impact our daily lives. Beyond that, I’d rather he be in touch with more serious issues than learning to sell items on E-Bay.

Then again, I don’t know why Senator McCain or any other leader would want to be without computer skills if they have the means to learn them. The opportunities are just too great. Just as FDR used the radio to forge a connection with Americans in the 1930s and Ronald Reagan used television a half-century later, future presidents will harness and use the Internet to connect with the American population. The notion of a future President blogging his or her thoughts to the public is not a matter of if, but when. Already we are seeing the impact of the Internet as a source of fund-raising and YouTube as a source of spreading a message, much as cable television and talk radio reshaped the political debate in the past 20 years.

No doubt, business leaders will be (or are already) doing the same, if they don’t leap frog the current technology and take to sharing corporate visions on Facebook.com the way so many students and young adults currently share opinions on the entire universe.

Yet, I still meet too many of us “grown-ups” who are far too limited in computer skills to understand the potential that lies in all these strange cyber-lands. We use Plaxo and LinkedIn accounts, but the information we share doesn’t compare with what the average teen-ager or college student posts on Facebook.

And that means we are missing opportunities.

Consumers are experienced with websites like Amazon.com, where shoppers’ likes and dislikes are remembered and purchasing suggestions are made based on that history. Imagine the power we can unleash by getting our people out front, talking to shoppers both in store and on line. We could build excitement, interest and maybe some sales. We could help form networks where recipes and health tips could be shared.

We could communicate broad goals with workers in ways we’ve never experienced before and we could gather feedback faster and in greater volume than ever. In short, we could open up a whole new world of discussion and dialogue and the potential to grow from it is incredible.

It is all about opportunity and the future. The next move is ours.

One more thing…Kevin wrote yesterday about the passing of one of my heroes, the great writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who had the courage to document the horrors of the penal system in the old Soviet Union. It’s been more than 30 years since I first read “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” a novel of a Soviet prisoner, but I have never forgotten it. If you haven’t read it, go the library and get it. Telling the truth isn’t easy, especially when a gun is pointed at your head. Mr. Solzhenitsyn never flinched and it’s a fitting tribute that his books outlived the country he wrote them about.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com .
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