The Digital Divide Between McCain And Obama Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama use technology in very different ways. Obama is an avid BlackBerry user; McCain favors his Motorola Razr phone and says he rarely uses e-mail or the Internet.

The Digital Divide Between McCain And Obama

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

We've been reporting regularly on election issues and where the presidential candidates stand on them. Well, today is technology day. And in a few minutes, we'll examine the tech policies of John McCain and Barack Obama. But first, how they use technology themselves.

The two candidates often get asked questions such as, do you have an iPod or what brand of cell phone do you use? Senator Obama has been spotted walking with his BlackBerry so absorbed he could bump into something. Senator McCain, on the other hand, says he rarely uses e-mail or the Internet.

As NPR's David Kestenbaum reports, both candidates' habits were shaped in part by what they were doing when the Digital Age began.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Today, Barack Obama has over one million friends on Facebook, but 10 years ago he was just a state legislator in Illinois with a single cell phone.

Mr. DAN SHOMON (Former Obama Campaign Director): He was pretty with-it. And I won't say he's the earliest adopter, but he was a early adopter.

KESTENBAUM: Dan Shomon worked as an aide to Obama at the time, and yes, he says, Obama used the Internet. He had to. The Illinois legislature put all the bills and amendments online. Obama and the other lawmakers were issued laptops.

Mr. SHOMON: While you were sitting there for hours and hours and hours during the session, you could surf the Internet and, you know, look for plane tickets, look at and the You know, that was a time where a lot of legislators really advanced their Internet skills.

KESTENBAUM: Obama got a BlackBerry relatively early on. Shomon says some of Obama's friends had them, and when Obama ran for U.S. Senate in 2003, his campaign decided it needed them too. So Obama's inventory of personal gadgets grew.

Mr. SHOMON: He always had his cell phone in a little clip on the side of his belt. Then he added his BlackBerry clipped to the side. So he had two clips.

KESTENBAUM: But more was coming. Too many people called the cell phone. Shomon says everybody and his brother had the number, so Obama had to get a second phone.

Mr. SHOMON: He had three technological devices strapped to his waist. And, you know, I don't think he enjoyed that too much.

KESTENBAUM: And his e-mails, did he ever use emoticons, little smiley faces?

Mr. SHOMON: Never.

KESTENBAUM: Technology made Obama's life more complicated. Shomon, who worked as the campaign director, remembers seeing Obama on two phone calls at once and tapping away at the BlackBerry.

Mr. SHOMON: Ultimately when he was pushed into the Internet age and into the BlackBerry age, you know, he resisted slightly, but he realized the benefit and the necessities.

KESTENBAUM: John McCain's digital resume is considerably shorter. During the Republican primary, he referred to himself as computer illiterate. And earlier this month, he told the New York Times that he depended on his wife and staff to show him Web sites. Here is tape from that interview.

(Soundbite of taped interview)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that done fairly soon - getting on myself. I don't expect to be a great communicator. I don't expect to set up my own blog, but I think I'm becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.

KESTENBAUM: McCain explained he didn't feel the need to send e-mails, and e-mails do have a way of sometimes leading to misunderstandings. McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin says the senator prefers to use the phone.

Mr. DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN (McCain Adviser): He has a tremendous appetite for information. And his favorite toy in the whole word is his Motorola Razr phone, and he flips it open and consults experts directly.

KESTENBAUM: When you're a senator, you can do that. And McCain has been in Congress for over 25 years. He went through the challenge of being elected to office before the World Wide Web existed. Since then, he's had a staff to do some of the things the rest of us go to the Internet for - track down information and find driving directions.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

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