The Technophobe

Today I feel all official because Tech support came up to the writing center and set my computer station up for me. I have a login name, a password, and my own Outlook email account.IMG_8071.JPG

This is my desk. Although I won’t use it much because my work takes me around to the students who enter the writing center, it feels great to have a space of my own (and a drawer the perfect size for hiding candy!)  Tomorrow I’ll bring some photos and things to personalize it a bit.

It took the IT guy about ten minutes to set up my email account. But I have to be honest with you…I have no idea where the server is housed. And that makes me wonder: do you know where your email server lives?

I’ve been mum on the whole HillaryEmailScandal because I wouldn’t expect her to know any more about servers than I do, which is nil, and because I needed to do a little research on the subject. What I found is a different picture than the one pictured on CNN’s breathless headlines.

The takeaway for me is the revelation that Secretary Clinton is practically technophobic. She didn’t even use email the way most of us do. She had her aides give her print outs of the emails or she viewed them on her Blackberry. Why would she want printed copies instead of looking at them on the screen? Why did she go through so many Blackberry devices? Was it because she had something sinister to hide, as the media seems to posit? No. It turns out that 69-year old Secretary Clinton hates computers as much as my dad does — which is saying something.

I’ve researched this email issue and read some of the FBI notes from their investigation that found no wrong-doing. The notes and interviews paint a picture of an executive who has no patience or comfort level with the latest and greatest gadgets:

Together, the documents, technically known as Form 302s, depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried inner circle of aides inside a bureaucracy where the IT and classification systems haven’t caught up with how business is conducted in the digital age.

My dad never uses the computer (except to watch over my mom’s shoulder). He doesn’t even use his cell phone (and, when he does, he inevitably accidentally butt-dials me). Like Clinton, technology irritates him, and he has much better things to do than try to figure out how to make different gadgets work: playing golf, working in the yard, bowling, watching the Science channel. Before he retired, Dad would rather work face-to-face with people than try to communicate with them using technology.

Clinton, it seems, is just as allergic to technology as my dad. According to the FBI notes, when Clinton became Secretary of State, her office had three phones: one for regular calls, one for secure calls, and one that went directly to certain government officials. Conspicuously absent from her desk? A computer. She didn’t have a computer in her office at the White House, at her house in Washington D.C., nor at her home in New York.

The gadget she had learned how to use as a Senator was the Blackberry, and she didn’t want to give it up and learn a whole new platform. In fact, often when she got a new Blackberry, she reverted back to the older model that she knew how to use.

“It was not uncommon for Clinton to use a new BlackBerry for a few days and then immediately switch it out for an older version with which she was more familiar.”

She never set up her own email accounts on these devices — so her aides did it for her (much in the same way my brother and I helped my mom set up her first smartphone). Clinton’s aides worked around her technological deficits. They printed emails and news articles for her. They helped her with the fax machine. They tried to get her interested in an iPad so she could read news articles herself (the Blackberry font was too small) but, as one staffer put it,

She initially responded enthusiastically to the idea, responding to Reines’ email that her iPad had arrived by writing, “That is exciting news—do you think you can teach me to use it on the flight to Kyev next week?” But when the traveling party embarked on the Air Force plane for the meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych, Clinton instead fell asleep with the unopened iPad package in her lap. Reines told the FBI that this struck him as funny because, “in contrast, he would not be able to sleep if he had just received a new iPad.” Then he added a dour note: “This episode was a foreshadowing for how little she would use the iPad.”

And these aides set up her email server. The reason she used a private one had more to do with advice she got from former (Republican-appointed) Secretary of State Colin Powell than with a desire to hide anything.

I don’t for one minute think the private email server was set up with any nefarious intentions. It was a mistake, yes. Ultimately the buck stopped with her. And I think if she is elected she needs to learn how to use a computer already and she needs to surround herself with security experts who will set up her communication systems. But I know that she didn’t even really know what it meant to have a “server” until the news media made a big deal about it. How do you conceptualize a server when you don’t even know the basics of a desktop computer? It’s hard to see the consequences of a choice when you don’t completely understand the choice you are making. To be fair, the federal government is always the LAST to catch up behind the public sector both in technology and in outdated regulations. How old are the desktops in your government office of choice? The FBI notes show a concerted effort by White House and Secretary of State staff to shape the technology (Blackberry) to the user (Clinton).

[As an interesting side note, it is remarkable that Clinton’s private email server actually SECURED her emails away from private eyes. Hackers have been able to get into John Podesta’s gmail account as well as multiple federal government departments: IRS, Office of Personnel Management, FBI, DHS, DOJ, and even a NASA drone. Yet when someone tried to get into Hillary’s, her aide noticed it right away and shut the server down before anything was hacked. Maybe the Clinton team was on to something, albeit by accident, and all government agencies need to have monitored private servers?]

I don’t know where MY emails are housed, either my personal ones or my new work ones. I don’t know how servers work. I don’t know about security beyond what my husband tells me, and today I relied on the Tech Guy to set everything up for me just like Clinton relied on her aides to set up her Blackberry email server.

My “new” computer station at work (at a publicly-funded university) is equipped with a Dell computer running Windows 7. Ironically, Windows 7 was released in June 2009…while  Clinton was still Secretary of State. Today I clicked and dragged and wobbled the mouse, trying to figure out Windows (I’m a Mac girl at home). I am not familiar with the icons and couldn’t find Outlook (at first). I couldn’t find a “Finder” window like I’m used to with my MacBook.  I guess I felt a bit like my dad and Clinton feel when faced with a computer they know nothing about…a tad frustrated and bothered. I had some online training to complete and needed to access emails to do it. I’m very happy to report that after some clicking around, I FOUND OUTLOOK and then did a private happy dance inside my head.

So here’s a shout-out to Secretary Clinton: whether you are elected or not, I volunteer to sit beside you and train you how to use a desktop computer or a laptop. You really need these skills if not for the presidency, then for communicating with your grandkids. Just imagine how much better it will be to Skype on a large screen than it is on a little Blackberry screen! I’m here — willing and able to help!

And if we can’t figure it out, we can always do something like this:


It’s always a good idea to extend mercy and the benefit of the doubt. I know Clinton isn’t perfect and her lack of policies and procedures for preserving emails contributed to the lack of trust people feel towards her. But in this case at least, the email fiasco, is a direct result of her technophobia and subsequent inability to see the ramifications of her email server setup; it is not indicative of any attempt at subterfuge and a cover-up.

You may read the evidence and come to a different conclusion, and that’s ok. In the Body of Christ, there’s room at the table for us all.



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