Next month, President-elect Donald Trump will become the third US president to be inaugurated in the 21st century, an age shaped by computers and the Internet.
But for all his social media prowess, the 70-year-old incoming president remains skeptical of emails, the Internet and, ultimately, “the whole … age of computer.”
“I think the computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on. We have speed and we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure you have the kind of security you need,” Trump told reporters Thursday evening.
While widespread Internet and email use has made Americans more vulnerable to problems like hacking and identity theft, Trump’s view of computers doesn’t seem to jibe with that of most Americans.
Nearly three-quarters of American adults own a desktop or laptop computer and 92% of Internet users use email, according to the Pew Research Center. Trump’s soon-to-be predecessor, President Barack Obama, uses laptop computers and owns an iPad, on which he sometimes receives the President’s Daily Brief of classified information.
But Trump’s skepticism of computers isn’t just a matter of connecting with Americans. Trump will come into office at a time when the US faces intense cybersecurity challenges, from radicalization of US citizens online to a slew of recent hacks orchestrated by the Chinese and Russian governments.
Asked about whether he favors sanctioning Russia for meddling in the US presidential election by hacking Democratic Party groups and individuals — as confirmed by the US intelligence community — Trump demurred: “I think we ought to get on with our lives.”
The President-elect has continued to resist the Intelligence Community’s findings regarding Russian hacking, continuing to cast doubt in recent weeks as to whether Russia was truly behind the hack that the CIA, Director of National Intelligence and FBI all agree was aimed at bolstering Trump in the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s public distrust of those conclusions may have grown out of his concern for protecting the power of his electoral mandate, but his general skepticism about computers and email is not new.
“I don’t do the email thing,” Trump said in a sworn deposition in 2007, as reported by The New York Times.
His secretary sometimes sent emails on his behalf, but he did not. Nor did he own a personal home or office computer.
In a 2013 deposition, Trump said he used email only “very rarely.”
And on the campaign trail, Trump sometimes explained his dislike for, and even distrust for, email in the context of bashing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server and the DNC hack, which boosted his campaign.
“I’m not an email person,” Trump said during a July press conference in which he invited Russia to uncover and release Clinton’s deleted emails. “I don’t believe in it because I think it can be hacked, for one thing. But when I send an email — if I send one — I send one almost never. I’m just not a believer in email.”
Similarly, just 29% of American adults are somewhat or very confident their email records are private and secure — though it doesn’t keep most from using email nonetheless.
But Trump’s distrust of emails doesn’t just stem from a fear he could be hacked. It’s also a way he’s sought to shield himself from lawsuits.
“I go to court and they say produce your emails. I say I don’t have any emails. The judges don’t even believe it,” Trump said at a Tampa, Florida, rally in February at which he explained that he’s “not a big believer in emails.” “After you win the case, they say, ‘Now I know that you’re really smart.'”
And in a 2005 interview on Howard Stern’s radio show, Trump talked about friends of his “under indictment right now because they sent emails to each other about how they’re screwing people.”
Still, Trump has not eschewed technology altogether.
The candidate shot to political relevance by opining on a range of current events and pop culture topics via Twitter long before he launched his run for president.
And during the campaign, Trump masterfully used the social media platform to drive the campaign narrative, needling and insulting political rivals and pushing back on damaging news stories with a series of 140-character tweets.
The President-elect owns a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, which he uses primarily to make phone calls and blast out his late-night tweets when no one is around for him to dictate them to.
But unlike a growing number of Americans, Trump doesn’t get his news online.
The billionaire’s daily routine has long begun by reading print newspapers — usually The New York Times and New York Post — and watching TV news shows, rather than reading articles online. Just 2 in 10 Americans typically get their news from print newspapers while 38% get their news online, according to a Pew Research Center study.
News articles from online publications still reach him, after a member of his staff has printed them off. That’s prompted several reporters to receive printouts of their articles scrawled with Trump’s handwriting delivering a critique of the story.