April 20, 2012

Combat and Camera Phones

I have an op-ed on Bloomberg View on the way in which the profusion of camera phones and other new-ish technology has caught the U.S. military off-guard. 

The proliferation of camera phones and social-media networks has caused problems for the U.S. military as an institution. Much of this has to do with the generational divide in understanding technology. Most of the men and women serving in the lower enlisted and company-grade officer ranks are what the defense expert Thomas Rid identifies as digital natives. They grew up with e-mail, Facebook and the Internet playing as much a part in their childhoods as Saturday morning cartoons did.


The senior ranks of the military, on the other hand, are populated by digital immigrants. E-mail is something they can remember using for the first time. As late as 2008, at a conference at the U.S. Army War College, Rid asked a collection of senior officers and civilian defense officials how many of them had a Facebook profile. Only four of about 50 people in the room raised their hands.


He then asked how many people had heard of Twitter, and only two people raised their hands. Today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff himself has a lively Twitter feed -- but the generational divide remains.

Read the rest here. With respect to this latest incident in Afghanistan, I continue to think this represents a failure of leadership on the part of whichever officers and noncommissioned officers were supposed to be supervising these soldiers. But there is a bigger issue surrounding new technologies that the U.S. military hasn't quite wrapped its head around, and in part I blame the fact that the people setting policy are often those least likely to understand the technology itself.