Absence of Tech from the 2012 Presidential Election

Today ZDnet ran an interesting piece on five technology themes that have been virtually absent from the 2012 Presidential Election.

The five themes are:

  • Net neutrality
  • Cyber-security
  • Privacy
  • Future of the Patriot Act
  • IT infrastructure

The author goes into detail with each issue, addressing its importance and how that importance is not reflected by the absence of these issues from the campaign dialogue.

The bottom line is I’m deeply disappointed with both candidates when it comes to tech issues. Technology and IT infrastructure policy discussion has been virtually absent from two campaigns that have relied heavily on technology and IT infrastructure to run their campaigns. These campaigns have relied on the Internet more than any others in history.

And yet, IT seems to be a far lower priority in the minds of the candidates than it should be. Either that, or they just don’t think a discussion of IT would play in Peoria. Either way, we’re getting short shrift for a very important topic.

Technology issues aren’t in the minds of voters, which explains why there hasn’t been any coverage of them. However, their importance is undeniable. Not only are some of the above issues critical to moving forward, but this election has seen more reliance on technology than any prior to it. If trends continue as they are, the next presidential campaign season will be even more so.

Moreover, tech companies are not standing idly by while the political battles are being fought. Giants such as Cisco, Microsoft, Google, AT&T, and others have been influencing the election, not simply through their technology, but also their pocketbooks.

As those tech titans set up display booths, threw lavish parties, hosted leading regulators and wooed new delegates, many companies also opened their checkbooks to the host committees in Tampa and Charlotte or contributed in-kind by donating their devices, support or other services.

Wireless company AT&T, for example, sent the GOP convention host committee $3 million in total help, while gifting at least $1.3 million to various Democratic funds and committees. Cisco spent more than $3 million in Tampa, while the company indicated it maintained a similar level of support in Charlotte.

Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Facebook also chipped in various levels of alternative support at both political events of the year — including devices, software and assorted technology services.

In the end, tech and telecom companies accounted for just a fraction of roughly $55 million raised by the Republicans for the convention in Tampa, according to FEC documents.

By contrast, Democrats raked in about $24.1 million — and could have used more — but the party initially resisted corporate contributions. It also received money through an outside fund, called New American City. And that group pulled in almost $20 million, new records show.

Now that the last of the debates is finished and we have less than two weeks to Election Day, we have to wonder what the technology agenda will be in the future. The government is a huge purchasing party for some of the most cutting-edge hardware, including the technology that drives cloud computing. They are the primary body which shapes the laws governing issues such as net neutrality and online privacy. Recently, they have voiced strong opinions about certain hardware vendors that American businesses should steer clear from.

All of this… and yet still tech remains absent from the mainstream conversation. When stacked up against the other major issues of the day – the economy, foreign policy, tax reform, etc. – we shouldn’t expect technology to emerge as a separate topic. In fact, it doesn’t make much sense for that to happen. Rather, we hope and expect to see technology as a growing sub-topic within each of the major social, economic, and political issues that dominate the political dialogue.

Here are a few areas we expect technology to be an increasingly more prominent subject in:

  1. Education: with the proliferation of online and distance learning, as well as the growing popularity of new tools in traditional educational environments, technology should be a centerpiece in the education debate.
  2. Healthcare: as the ZDnet author rightly points out, electronic health records and medical IT are huge developing areas and regardless of the future fate of Obamacare, technology in healthcare is critical and must be addressed by any future president.
  3. National security & defense: this is key not only for improving the efficiency of our traditional military, but also for building up our capabilities to handle unorthodox threats such as cyber-security and information warfare
  4. Budget & spending challenges: the main crux here is how to balance future investments in new technologies and infrastructure against the potential efficiency gains and waste reduction to help close the federal budget deficit.

Are there other tech issues that you feel need to be part of the national discussion, or other areas in which you expect technology will be a topic of increasing discussion?