Preston Gralla: Tech talk seems to be taboo on the campaign trail

As the presidential election nears, the debates and discussions have ignored some of the most important issues of our time, issues that will go a long way toward determining what kind of country we will be and what kind of economic future we will have.

I'm talking about technology issues. On the political hustings, technology is rarely mentioned. When it is, it's uttered with the same kind of knee-jerk generic approval as motherhood. But just as motherhood these days has a host of political implications associated with it, so does technology -- though in the case of technology, the issues aren't discussed.

What's at stake? Privacy, antitrust regulations, cyberwar, the digital divide and digital literacy gap, a potential Internet sales tax -- and that's just for a start.

For example, broadband access in the U.S. significantly lags other developed countries, such as South Korea. Should the government spend money to close that gap, offer incentives to close it or leave it up to the private sector? Should the government establish stricter rules to protect people's online and mobile privacy, or will doing so hurt Internet and mobile companies and end up costing jobs?

And how about the cap on H-1B visas for tech workers? Should it be raised, lowered or kept the same? Should the government follow Microsoft's proposal to allow companies to pay $10,000 for every new supplemental H-1B visa and $15,000 for a STEM green card visa, and then take the up to $500 million those fees would raise each year and invest it in education, mainly STEM programs?

You likely haven't heard either candidate address issues like these, and you probably won't. That's because discussions about them are complex and not amenable to sound bites.

State and local elections are much the same. Where I live, in Massachusetts, we've got one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the country, pitting Republican incumbent Scott Brown against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. Anyone tuning in to watch the debates has heard plenty of talk about Elizabeth Warren's possible American Indian heritage, not exactly a burning issue that will affect anyone's life. But even in a state like Massachusetts, whose economy is heavily tied to tech, you won't find any serious discussions on the topic.

Notice that I use the word "serious," because every once in a while, technology does get mentioned. But when it does, it's generally a discussion that belongs on the nut-case fringe. In Maine, a state whose political culture is normally staid and sober, the Republican Party sent a mailing in early October warning that Colleen Lachowicz, a Democratic candidate for the state Senate, "has been living a time-consuming double life as a member of the World of Warcraft Community." Maine GOP communications director David Sorensen warned that Lachowicz "lives vicariously" through her WoW character, Santiaga. The Maine GOP believes this to be such an important issue that it has built a website,, "where people can see Lachowicz's online activity for themselves," in the words of a GOP press release.

The site exists, but if you try to go there from the online version of the GOP press release announcing it, you'll get a "Server not found" connection error -- essentially the same kind of error you'll get if you go looking for a serious discussion about tech issues this campaign season.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon