OK, Boomer: The problem with analogue politicians in a digital world

    Nov 13, 2019

    OTTAWA—OK, Boomer.

    The fundamental lack of understanding of technology, paired with the complete disinterest in learning about it and how it affects our lives, is a massive problem for democratic governments, and Canada is not immune to this. In fact, this is where Canadian leadership takes hold—in deliberate ignorance.

    From New Zealand Member of Parliament Chlöe Swarbrick using the phrase, to a generational debate on CNN, the remark has grown from its niche beginnings on TikTok to mainstream public consciousness. But not without some Baby Boomers getting upset at this new turn of phrase, with some likening it to “the N-word, but for Baby Boomers.”

    Cue in hard eye-roll.

    For the uninformed, “OK, Boomer” is the Gen Z (and you, Millennial) retort to the endless judgment they receive from Baby Boomers. In the case of Swarbrick, a 25-year-old elected official, she was in the middle of a passionate speech on zero-carbon legislation when an older male Baby Boomer colleague heckled her (let’s not get into the ageism and misogyny present in that behaviour), and without missing a beat, Swarbrick responded by throwing an, “OK, Boomer,” into her remarks and continued to make her point.

    While generational struggles aren’t new, the differences between them are becoming increasingly stark, exacerbated by technology. Technology is a generational lightning-rod issue that Boomers and Gen X struggle with, and that Millennials and Gen Z easily comprehend. Take, for example, any time an internet giant is brought before a Congressional committee or parliamentary committee: the questions are inane and often fail to get to the crux of why the company is making an appearance in the first place. This was evident last year, during Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees, when Senator Orrin Hatch couldn’t wrap his head around Facebook’s business model. It went a little something like this:

    Hatch: “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

    Zuckerberg: “Senator, we run ads.”

    OK, Boomer.

    Conversely, 30-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who understands how technology and social media work, skewered Zuckerburg about his new cryptocurrency, Libra, during a recent visit to Washington to testify before the House Financial Services Committee.

    AOC: “Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?”

    Zuckerberg: “Congresswoman, I think lying is bad. I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie that would be bad. That’s different from it being—in our position, the right thing to prevent your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied.”

    Lies are bad. What phenomenal insight.

    Here in Canada, a special committee was created in advance of our last election to ensure that there was no foreign influence by decision-makers who, if given the chance, could be that colleague that hit “reply all” to an all-staff email, setting off an endless chain of “Please stop using reply all” responses. These are the same ones who fall for phishing scams that put institutional and personal security at risk, and in the case of the City of Ottawa, allow public funds to be sent to scammers.

    And yet, it is this group of people who make public policy that not only affects the lives of Canadians and our allies, but that will affect us for years to come. Bias in artificial intelligence is an issue of enormous proportions that requires a base understanding of how data is tracked, commodified, and sold (à la Cambridge Analytica) by technology companies, yet it has barely been brought up in the mainstream media or in political circles. However, instead of doing our due diligence with these companies, we are stuck with generational technological neophytes who can barely understand how the cloud works.

    Some of you can barely follow what’s being talked about right now.

    How can we expect decision-makers to hold these technology companies accountable? We can’t. And it’s evident they wouldn’t know where to start.

    10-4, Dinosaur.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.