There may be other members of Congress who do not know how to use computers for research and communication, but Rep. Don Young, 87, is the only one who thinks it is something to be proud of.
Most Alaskans don’t know about Young’s rejection of modern technology because Alaska news organizations have never covered this aspect of his 47-year career in Congress in any detail.
It’s astonishing really. It would be like a Congressman 100 years ago refusing to speak on a telephone.
Young is the oldest man in Congress, but this is not about Young being too old for the job. It’s about him meeting the minimum requirements for holding federal office in 2020.
Lots of people in their 90s know their way around a keyboard and are comfortable with the easy access to immense amounts of information made possible by the computer revolution. Those who can’t use these tools are out of touch and would never be given a second look in the private sector.
“I’ve never used a computer in my life,” Young bragged to an audience of senior citizens at the end of his beer virus rant in March. “I don’t use my cell phone and that keeps me from getting in trouble.”
It is understandable that Young, who is closing in on a half-century in Congress, didn’t go to Washington, D.C. with any computer skills. He showed up there in 1973, when Steve Jobs was technically a literature major at Reed College and Bill Gates had just entered Harvard in pre-law.
“By 1975, computers became a common fixture in most congressional offices. To assist member offices in modernizing their offices, Members were granted computer allowances in their operating budgets and given personalized training classes,” this U.S. House technology history says.
The big advance came a quarter-century ago, a point at which Young, then 62, should have taken it upon himself to learn about what the late Sen. Ted Stevens later called a “series of tubes.”
“By the start of the 106th Congress (1999–2001), freshman member orientation was supplemented with a computer tutorial featuring the House office buildings and the Capitol,” the blog post notes.
But Young never adapted to the technology of the last century or this one, claiming that he has federal employees who turn computers on and off for him.
In a May 18, 2011 blog post in the Anchorage Daily News, reporter Sean Cockerham wrote one of the few accounts ever published in Alaska about Young’s antipathy to computers.
“I’m the smartest congressman in Congress. I’ve never turned a computer on, never turned one off. And I tell you what, they better not call this phone, I’ll call out,” Young said.
“That’s why I’m the smartest congressman in Congress. Because everybody else knows what everybody else is doing. I mention Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor Spitzer. . .right down the line.”
Young gave more details of his computer phobia in a 2018 interview with C-SPAN.
“I’ve never twittered in my life,” Young said, suggesting that this was an issue on which he doesn’t agree with President Trump. “I’ve never sent a text in my life. I’ve never turned a computer on. I’ve never turned one off.”
“Now some will say, ‘Well, you’re old fashioned.’ I hire people that can do that. But I will not do it. And that makes me more, I think, accessible and actually study more. Because you can get hooked on that little baby.”
Hiring people who can turn computers on and off? That doesn’t make him old fashioned or more accessible. It makes him uninformed.
Young’s campaign managers and Young’s federal employees, much younger than Young, have gone to great lengths in recent months to post many items on social media pretending to be Young. This is an attempt to fool the voters. His employees recognize that most Alaskans expect a member of Congress to be computer literate.
His employees post many photos showing Young sitting in front of a computer, one that they presumably have turned on for him and will eventually turn off after the Zoom meeting. The photos show Young with notes on paper, not on the computer.
The photos don’t convey the truth about Young and his rejection of modern technological tools essential for all members of the U.S. House.
No one who brags about having never used a computer deserves to be in Congress, collecting $174,000 a year.