A recent Bangor Daily News editorial criticized U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s defense of the state’s paper industry, contrasting it to his stance on innovation and technology.
Michaud and I come from different ends of the political, socioeconomic, educational and even geographic spectrums of Maine. Nevertheless, I can’t buy into the editorial’s criticism given my personal experience and all evidence available to me.
The editorial highlighted Maine’s future, a good focus. Technological change will be the driving force of Maine’s economy for the next decades. We will either be rewarded or damaged based on the extent to which we adapt to technological evolution.
But the editorial sharpened its knife using the example of Michaud’s support for keeping paper options for Americans who need them. As an example, when you pick up a prescription today at the pharmacy, you get a paper insert with safety information about your prescription. To defend the paper industry and help Maine’s older population, who are intimidated by online technology, Michaud fought the attempt to have that information be available only online. From this the editorial distilled its headline, “Government-by-paper focus in Congress isn’t what Maine needs from a Gov. Michaud.”
I disagree. The editorial’s criticism of his position ignored the fact that drug interactions and side effects are a very serious and expensive problem. Informing patients so they can take an active role in their own health care is of high value. Scrapping the system that allows patients to get information both online and on paper at the time of sale is extremely unwise. The small savings from avoiding paper use will be wiped out by a flood of increased health care for people who might have been better informed by the paper inserts. Michaud’s intervention to avoid this bad outcome was appropriate.
I love technology, but technology is a tool, not an end itself. Adopting new technologies solely because they are new is a recipe for wasting large amounts of money. To successfully innovate, it is vital that our focus be on solving problems, not on the technology.
Think about technology as it pertains to the BDN’s concerns about the paper industry’s long-term viability, and Michaud’s support for it.
The rapid evolution of technology is affecting all industries and all corners of society, not just the paper industry. The paper industry will have to adapt by evolving the products and processes to meet new demand. Like all such evolutions, jobs will be lost and created. However, wood fiber has so many valuable and unique properties that an industry that makes products from it will be with us for generations. Maine has compelling competitive advantages as a location for wood fiber processing. The most prudent course is to support the paper industry, and all other industry clusters that are best suited for Maine, in a manner that maintains the value of what we already have and accelerates the industry’s evolution. Therefore, I believe Michaud’s support for the paper industry is entirely appropriate.
So is his support for high-tech infrastructure. As the BDN correctly points out, an important infrastructure for innovation is building state-of-the-art telecommunications networks. I can tell you from personal experience that Michaud has been a very effective advocate for federal investment in Maine’s fiber optic networks, specifically the Three Ring Binder.
Another great way for Maine to move forward is for careful and appropriate investment in the most important infrastructure of all, education. All the evidence I have supports the notion that Michaud has been a true champion of educating Maine children.
So, Michaud is a strong supporter of Maine’s digital economy, but alas, he also supports the paper industry. Should he be celebrated or skewered for that?
The BDN, arguing in favor of a digital economy, implied that Michaud’s defense of the paper industry is outdated. As one of the cheerleaders of Maine’s digital economy, I disagree.
We should not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need both the state’s new economy and its traditional economy to make sure we build a future in which Maine people enjoy maximum economic opportunity.
Fletcher Kittredge is the CEO of Great Works Internet in Biddeford, a Maine-owned internet services provider. He has been a leading proponent of the Three Ring Binder, a project designed to bring high-speed Internet access to rural Maine.