You’ve already heard about Hillary Clinton’s personal email server, and probably also about the Internal Revenue Service’s disappearing-reappearing messages. But a lesser-known, longer-brewing email scandal should be far more upsetting, at least if you’re under the age of, say, 40.
It’s about all the senators who proudly abstain from using email at all.
This came to public attention on last week’s “Meet the Press,” when Sen. Lindsey Graham ( R-S.C.), considered a possible presidential candidate, was asked whether he had a private email address.
“I don’t email,” Graham replied. “No, you can have every email I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”
“I don’t know what that makes me,” he added.
A few labels come to mind, none flattering.
Yet Graham seemed blissfully unaware of the widespread jeering and disdain these comments would provoke across social media. The same goes for the other members of the “Flip Phone Caucus,” who have pretty casually copped to Luddism, too.
A few days before Graham’s confession, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he doesn’t use this newfangled electronic messaging system, either. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) later told Politico that he also abstains from electronic communication. Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said to the same publication that he has written “not a lot” of emails and that his preferred method of communication with staff is the handwritten note. That provides a nice personal touch, certainly, but it’s not exactly the most efficient way to manage an office.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) told the New York Times that he dabbles “not very much” in the ways of the computerized communique. And just to prove that digital dinosaurdom is not exclusively a Republican affliction, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the Times “with evident relish” (reporter Ashley Parker’s characterization) that “maybe once every four months, I do one email.”
These legislators probably would have been considered behind the times in 1998. Yet for the most part they point to their reluctance to learn and use 20th-century workplace tools with pride, as if it were evidence of their authenticity and social purity. Apparently they believe a preference for quill and parchment demonstrates their heartfelt desire for thoughtfulness and intimacy.
Others have suggested that this abstinence from email stems from
not wanting to leave a paper (or digital) trail. As the oft-quoted advice, attributed to the late Boston boss Martin Lomasney, goes: Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink. And, needless to say, don’t ever tweet out a photo of your man-parts if literally any other means of expression is available.
Maybe not using email was initially motivated by a craven desire to avoid record-keeping. But the casualness with which these senators acknowledge such habits reveals something scarier, at least to those born after about 1980: how utterly uninterested they are in understanding the daily experience, workplace expectations or priorities of their younger constituents.
Look, if you’re a normal, middle-class retiree who never had to use email as part of your job, we millennials will understand if you need some assistance FaceTiming with the grandkids and locating the caps-lock key every now and then. But as the late senator Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens learned, we will judge you harshly if you insist on technological illiteracy despite being elected to set federal laws that affect technology, privacy, labor, global competitiveness, immigration, appropriations and any other policy area that intersects with the digital economy, as is the case for many of the members of today’s Luddite Caucus. Use of contemporary technology may not be a sufficient condition for understanding what makes good tech policy, but it is a necessary one.
Not taking the time to learn to communicate the way that pretty much everyone else in the nation does reveals such mindboggling levels of societal incuriosity that it should be considered political malpractice. It should probably also disqualify you from crafting any policy that has even been tangentially touched by the now decades-old digital revolution. Which is pretty much every kind of policy you can think of.
Millennials have no explicit litmus test for digital savvy, and we’re not going to canvass for you just because you assigned an intern to handle your Instagram account. But if you’re still using a carrier pigeon while lecturing us about how it’s our fault that we haven’t acquired the skills desirable to 21st-century employers, don’t expect our vote.
Washington Post Writers Group