A New Generation Of Internet Lawmakers - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
9/29/2009
08:14 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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A New Generation Of Internet Lawmakers

I'm still stuck in the 90s when I think about elected officials using the Internet. Back in the 90s, elected officials had never even touched the Internet. They thought it was a sewer of child porn and terrorists, and their only reaction to it was to try to control it--or make it go away. Until recently, I thought of lawmakers as still being as naive as they were back then. But a brief conversation with Rep. John Culberson shattered my preconceptions.

I'm still stuck in the 90s when I think about elected officials using the Internet. Back in the 90s, elected officials had never even touched the Internet. They thought it was a sewer of child porn and terrorists, and their only reaction to it was to try to control it--or make it go away. Until recently, I thought of lawmakers as still being as naive as they were back then. But a brief conversation with Rep. John Culberson shattered my preconceptions.Of course, I knew intellectually that elected officials had moved on from the 90s. President Obama couldn't bear to part with his BlackBerry, and drove using Web 2.0 for open government. But I guess I didn't really get it. I still thought of elected officials as being a bunch of old fogies who typed with one finger, had to call tech support when they couldn't find the "any" key, and referred to the CD-ROM drive as "the cup holder."

Culberson, a Texas Republican, called me recently to discuss his work crowdsourcing the healthcare bill. He posted HR 3200 online, and invited constituents to comment on it using software from SharedBook. But I had the vague idea that Culberson himself--and other Congressmen, Senators, and elected officials--didn't get the Internet, that probably he had some younger, more with-it staff behind the crowdsourcing effort.

Culberson brushed that preconception aside as soon as he called me. The first thing he did was ask me about Google Voice, the Google Internet telephony service, which I have used as my primary phone number since the service launched as Grand Central in early 2007. We discussed the benefits: Voicemail transcription, one number that rings all your phones. He had some difficulty setting it up, and we talked about that. In a strange way, his difficulty getting it configured impressed me most of all--the problems he encountered are the ones that a skilled Internet user sometimes stumbles over when running a Web 2.0 service. (I told him I'd be happy to help with it, but that the folks at Google would probably be thrilled to lend a hand, too.)

We had a brisk discussion about the merits of Twitter, Facebook, and the Qik; video-sharing service. He ended up explaining Qik to me

Culberson, a leader of the conservative opposition to Obama, has led the charge for Republican use of social media and Web 2.0, getting many of his GOP colleagues active on Twitter.

And that speaks to another misconception about Washington social media usage: When we think of Government 2.0 efforts, we think of it as being led by the Democrats. The GOP is using the Internet too, to coordinate its opposition to Democratic leadership. They're doing it skillfully, and Democrats and progressive will forget that fact at their peril.

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