Claudia Kennedy probably is the first retired Army general to thank Betty Friedan in an autobiography.
In 1997, Kennedy became the first female three-star general in the history of the Army. She battled tradition, stereotypes and sexual harassment, ending up as deputy chief of staff for intelligence, a position that had her overseeing a 45,000-person, $1-billion program.
Kennedy, 54, left the Army last year and announced that she was considering a run for a U.S. Senate seat from Virginia. She abandoned that effort and is on tour promoting her book, "Generally Speaking." She also has appeared on NBC news as a military affairs commentator during the offensive in Afghanistan.
DESKTOP: A Compaq I bought in January 1999, when I knew I was getting ready to leave the Army. In the Army, I had a staff that would arrange my whole life. They would take care of my schedule, make my arrangements for travel. When you become a three-star general, you get an enlisted aide at home who takes care of your uniform, your meals. I hardly touched a computer.
Not that I was much good at them. In an earlier position, they put one on my desk and I was expected to use it. I got so frustrated that I finally got a plastic gun that made nine different noises. The minute anyone heard one of those noises, they would rush in and help me. When I got the home computer, one of the things I wanted to do was put together a personal database and use it for personal correspondence. But I never managed to do it. Since I retired, my life has been insanely busy.
Question: Couldn't you hire someone to put it together for you?
Answer: I want to be independent. The whole point of having a computer is using it to do things you would have others do.
I'm on the road so much that what I really need is a laptop. I was going to buy one just the other day, but I got sidetracked in a bookstore and I ended up buying a full set of Winston Churchill books on World War II; 10 of them I had shipped home.
Q: But you are really going to buy a laptop?
A: Yes. I see it as my part to help the economy in these times. I got the books and three pairs of shoes; now comes the laptop.
Q: It goes without saying you are an accomplished person. Why the problem with computers over the years?
A: I was always good in math and science. In my senior year in college, I knew computers were here to stay, so I took a course in Fortran programming. I loved it. We had to design programs, look for the most elegant solution. It was like solving a mystery.
Now, when you just sit down at a keyboard and type, it seems so mechanical. Of course, the functionality of today's computers is important, but it takes the fun out of it.
E-MAIL: I don't have to use it much for business. I have three agents at William Morris, one for books, one for speeches and one for media appearances. They don't send me e-mail; they want to talk on the phone.
It's a cultural thing, I think. They are low tech, high touch. It's a business that is all about retaining personal relationships. They want to make sure you go through your agent for everything having to do with the work.
We used to talk about this in the Army. Military leaders who had a high fluency with a computer sometimes had to be reminded that you have to establish a personal contact with the people you lead. You have to stand eye-to-eye with the troops you will be sending into battle. You can't send someone into battle by e-mail.
BOOKMARKED SITES: I go to Amazon [http://www.amazon.com], mostly just to see what people who enjoy the same authors are ordering. I don't order much from them because I love to go to bookstores.
I wanted to read the New York Times online [http://www.nyt.com]--I already get the Washington Post [http://www.washpost.com] and Wall Street Journal [http://www.wsj.com], and there are enough problems recycling. But I could never get it to work. I was too impatient.
I have AOL, and I like it. But if I go on at a busy time of day, I am always getting cut off. If I only have two minutes to go on and get my e-mail, and it cuts me off, I can't take the time to keep signing back on.
HAND-HELD: I got one for free. When I got Glamour magazine's lifetime achievement award, there was one in the goodie bag in my hotel room. It was a thrill to get it, but I was not sure what it was. Later, I sat down with a college girl and asked her just what it did. She told me it was a PDA, a good one, and explained it all to me. But I never got it going. I gave it away after six months because I didn't want it to get outdated before someone had a chance to use it.
GADGETS: I don't use ATMs. A lot of them charge you a fee, and I object to paying any money to get my own money. Anyway, I want to deal with a person.
Q: No ATM card? That's extreme.
A: I guess I have to get a grip on all this. But I don't find it interesting. My life is driven by a lot of outside situations. If I have an extra 20 minutes in the morning, do I give it to the computer where I will be frustrated or do I give it to the dog?
The dog wins every time.
As told to David Colker