Bill Murchison

Come on. Give an old man half a chance.

I speak for myself as well as for John McCain.

No more sneering talk of the sort we've heard lately concerning McCain's ineptitude when it comes to computers -- an ineptitude he's striving to overcome.

Give us a break. At a moment of immense challenges to the national well-being, there must be, conservatively speaking, about 5,000 things more urgent than the ability to spread a spreadsheet and hammer out e-mail. Yet the rap goes on: If the guy can't do computers, blah, blah, blah ...

Well, horsefeathers! retorts a man on the slightly younger end of the McCain generation.

The computer is a welcome addition to our communications toolbox. The whole toolbox it ain't and, what's more, never will be.

Let me attempt a note of sobriety in this giddy debate over McCain's non-computer prowess. No invention ever changes the world in quite the thoroughgoing way its early adepts envision. Nor do certain fundamentals of life ever disappear -- praise the Lord.

The Dallas Morning News, for whom I worked in the typewriter/hot lead days, taught me the computer a decade ago. I use the computer every day and like it fine. I e-mail; I edit; I research; I write. Perhaps it takes a fringe member of the McCain generation to appreciate how instantaneous has research become thanks to the World Wide Web. There always will be things you can't, or don't want to, ferret out on-line, but the number is diminishing. I recently wanted the Spanish word for "shame." I Googled it, got it immediately, remembered then that I knew it, but so what? I had it.

And yet ... And yet ...

A few ineffaceable black marks attach to computers and the web. The computer, I have often remarked, is the greatest time-wasting invention of all time. You can't -- sometimes -- quit doing e-mail; you can't -- even more frequently, I would judge -- shut off the information flow. An hour passes; then 90 minutes. You're taking it all in. Just why, you can't always say.

The biggest time-wasters on the greatest time-wasting invention of all time are blogs. I don't mean, of course, all blogs. Some inform, some energize. The blogger's credentials you can't know except over time, and in the Internet age, with millions of blogs out there to check, how much time have you got? Moreover, reader comments on blogs range from snippy to contemptuous to stupid -- in far higher degree than letters to the editor (as I know from years of editing letters). Blogs don't precisely promote reasonable discourse.

Nor good composition habits. In e-mail, as in blogs, the mission is just to get it out there: never mind grammar, spelling and other such restraints on self-expression. From which neglect bad habits take root.


Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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