Old people suck at technology.
I know that by saying that, I run the risk of being chased out of town by a torch-and-pitchfork wielding brigade of seniors on mobility scooters. I don’t deny that there are a few (and by that I literally mean one or two) tech-savvy seniors out there, streaming videos over YouTube while they wait for their tea to boil. Nonetheless, I believe it’s becoming increasingly important to recognize the fact that old people and technology make for uncomfortable bedfellows. That’s because it’s no longer just a matter of explaining to your great-aunt what an “app” is every year at Thanksgiving, or reassuring your grandfather that your iPad isn’t a Soviet spy drone. The clash between old people and technology has reached the national stage, and in this American election season, it’s more apparent than ever before.
You don’t have to be a political junkie to notice the myriad of factual discrepancies floating over the airwaves. At the Republican National Convention in August, Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan delivered a speech pockmarked with inaccuracies, citing the December 2008 closure of a Wisconsin General Motors plant as an example of Barack Obama’s failures during his first term as President … which began in January of 2009.
Just last week at the first Presidential Debate in Denver, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney responded to the incumbent’s opinion on his tax plan with outright denial. “Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate,” Romney declared. With so many blatant factual conundrums and with the election still a long month of campaigning away, one wonders how many more inconsistencies will arise — and why they’re even arising at all.
The answer, as I’ve said already, is that old people suck at technology. But that answer doesn’t quite cut it for men like Ryan (42 years old), Obama (51) or even Romney (65). They may not be in the flowering of their youths, but they’re not exactly falling into their graves yet either. Nonetheless, they all belong to a generation of men and women who vastly underestimate the power of modern technology.
Institutions like Facebook, however lame or emotionally vapid they might be, have raised the bar for consistency in our political arena. The accessibility of information today is exponentially greater than it was 10 years ago, and light-years from where it was when Ryan was growing up in Wisconsin in the 1970s. The ensuing cultural rift has led many experienced politicians to carry on into the 21st century as they did in the 20th: with a loose understanding and anemic appreciation for the truth.
It’s been said too many times to count that all politicians are liars, and in a way, that’s true. In another sense, though, politicians are nothing more than the products of an electoral system geared towards inconsistency. A moderate will never clinch his party’s nomination, any more than an extremist will win the national election. In order to work within the framework of American politics, our leaders must learn to be naturally duplicitous.
Social media is changing all of that.
Now, when Romney reformulates his tax plan five weeks before the election to pander more inclusively to middle-class Americans, the change sticks out like a sore thumb. When Ryan delivers a speech stuffed with technical misinformation, all it takes is a mildly curious 12-year-old with a Google search engine to call him out on his bullshit. Technology is redefining the way people see politics. The problem is that it hasn’t seemed to change the way politicians do politics. The recent slew of inconsistency is nothing new; it’s existed since the foundation of politics in ancient times. What’s new is our technology, and our politicians seem either unable or unwilling to adjust.
What will likely come to pass in the next decade, then, is an exodus of stubborn politicians on a nearly Biblical scale. Senators and members of Congress who cannot learn to say what they mean and do what they say will find themselves beached like floater fish in a dirty stream. Elections will be awarded to the most consistent bidder, rather than to the one with the highest bid. Think of it as a case of natural selection.
After all, if we won’t settle for obsolete technology, why on Earth should we settle for obsolete politicians?
Mark Strong is voting for the Reverend Al Sharpton.