How tech baffled an elderly Congress

Avi Selk:

Zach Graves, who regularly commutes between Silicon Valley and D.C. for his work at a free-market tech advocacy group called the Lincoln Network, has been wincing through congressional tech hearings since long before the Google and Facebook spectacles became viral dark comedy.

“There’s lot of run-of-the-mill hearings where that’s about par for the course,” he said. “It’s clear from the kinds of questions they were asking they weren’t prepped properly.”

In particular he remembers the House Agriculture Committee’s attempt to take on cryptocurrency. Premised on the possibility that bitcoins might fall into the same regulatory category as soybeans and corn, July’s hearing opened with a panel of technologists trying to explain blockchain technology.

A CEO with purple-dyed hair made a particularly diligent effort to connect with the Congress members. “Email allows you to send a digital version of a birthday card to a grandchild instantly,” she wrote in her prepared statement. “Cryptocurrency like bitcoin gives you the ability to put the digital equivalent of $10 inside that card.”

But the generational chasm became apparent when the 74-year-old ranking Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, took the microphone and announced, “Um. I don’t know where to start.” He explained that he was still uncomfortable with President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to abolish the gold standard in 1933, and liked this new idea no better. “They’re just creating this money out of nowhere!” he said.

“The problem you’re having is you DON’T UNDERSTAND TECHNOLOGY YOU 8-track listening fools,” countered one of several hundred cryptocurrency enthusiasts watching the proceedings live on YouTube.

There is a counterargument to this criticism, which issues from the offices of the lawmakers themselves. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, who left office Thursday at age 84, was pilloried during April’s Facebook hearings for asking Zuckerberg: “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”