Our political leaders have a history of making technology-related gaffes. Just recently, while debating a financial regulation bill, Sen. Ben Nelson admitted he didn't know how to use an ATM. A few years earlier, it was then-Sen. Ted Stevens referring to the Internet as "a series of tubes." The list goes on.
America would be better off if its elected representatives had a clue about technology. Some are on the ball--Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has a popular blog and Rep. Darrell Issa introduced the first congressional committee iPhone app--but there's a long way to go. As lawmakers increasingly confront issues like online privacy, net neutrality, and broadband capacity, their legislation will shape the future of technologies and communications that many don't even understand.
Members of Congress, all 535 of them, should be as tech-savvy as their constituents. How to do it? One way to start is with Apple's iPad, which is already transforming how people consume information. While it can't make calls, the tablet computer is far more versatile than an iPhone or BlackBerry, the popular choice of many politicians. With its short battery life, an iPhone won't make it through a filibuster or a taxpayer-funded junket, and the BlackBerry can't match Apple's expanse of apps.
The iPad, on the other hand, can run for up to 10 hours, and is physically large enough (about the size of a piece of paper) for aging members of Congress to read its screen with relative ease. More to the point, the iPad provides a hands-on demonstration of broadband capacity concerns, by showing how commercial devices are putting greater demands on the existing infrastructure, which is already embarrassingly slow. Lawmakers can also traipse down the halls of social networks like Facebook while using the iPad, good homework for their hearings on online privacy law.
While some representatives are already converts--"This thing is the bomb," declared Rep. Jason Chaffetz--a recent article in Politico noted that only one U.S. senator, Claire McCaskill, had splurged for the iPad. But as word spreads on Capitol Hill, other members are likely to join the Congressional iPad Caucus.
There's no reason to delay. If their army of lobbyists can figure out how to sidestep Congressional ethics rules, Apple should get an iPad into the hands of every lawmaker on the Hill. But even if they have to pay out of pocket, the expense would be worth it. And while it might not reduce the gaffes, at least it would help members of Congress make more informed decisions.