Government

Once technologically illiterate, Tom Vilsack learns email and more

Then-U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks at an event on the project designed to reduce nitrates in the Cedar Rapids water supply in La Porte City in 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Then-U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks at an event on the project designed to reduce nitrates in the Cedar Rapids water supply in La Porte City in 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks.

Fifteen years ago, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack admitted he didn’t send or receive emails.

“I’m 52 years old, and I don’t know much about technology,” the two-term Democrat said in 2003 when it was discovered Vilsack’s lack of computer skills probably contributed to his office’s incomplete response to a request for emails about a controversial pay plan for one of his department heads.

“I don’t even know how to send a response to an email, that’s how technologically deficient I am,” he said at the time.

Fast-forward to 2018, and the former USDA secretary who is president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy Export Council recently was at Google’s Chicago offices earlier this month promoting greater use of technology for food production, processing and distribution.

And he has apps — close to 100 on his phone, Vilsack said while being interviewed as part of the discussion of artificial-intelligence applications in food systems.

“Too many,” he said, explaining that they “basically blur the picture of my two grandkids.”

It’s one thing to have the apps, it’s another thing to use them, Vilsack said, “but I use most of them.”

That includes some “really interesting” weather apps and those for his favorite sports teams.

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“I’m a news junkie, so I have virtually all of the political apps and publications that you would expect,” he said.

He and his wife, Christie, “are constantly playing each other in Scrabble.”

“I win once a month,” he said.

He also has podcast apps for listening while exercising.

For the most part, Vilsack said, he uses apps, such as games and puzzles, in a personal way

“For those of you who have small children or for those of you who are grandparents, it is a lifesaver to have these games that kids can play,” Vilsack told the audience.

He has boundaries, however. Vilsack tried Facebook, “but I didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in what I was doing every day.”

It appears his last Facebook post was in June 2016.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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