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E-mail at the gate

Where is the middle ground between too much and none? E-mail at the Gate

E-mail is quickly becoming the new plasma of the global communicatory circulation system. It is quickly replacing the quick phone call and making strong headway into the domain of snail-mail. Even without malicious strains like Melissa and Anna Kournakova, e-mail is truly a virus that is revolutionizing the way we use and abuse communication.

It is e-mail that has caught my eye twice this past week. It seems that Congress and President Bush (and President Clinton before him) are having problems with it. Congress is receiving too much–as many as 55,000 messages per month in some Senate offices. The e-mail is clogging congressional mail servers, most is not answered, and some is being answered via snail mail. To add insult to electronic injury, many Senators incorrectly refer to the e-mail as spam. This problem on the Hill has found its counterpoint at the White House.

President Bush recently sent a letter to 42 of his closest friends signing off from electronic missives. As with President Clinton, Bush is aware that anything he writes can be subpoenaed through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Rather than allowing his personal correspondence to be made public, Bush and Clinton chose to not write any e-mail at all for the duration of their stay in the White House. While there may be many who would like to see the private e-mails of both of these men, the reach of the FOIA seems to me a bit excessive in this case. Allowing one e-mail and not another is tricky business, but something is lost when the President is fearful of using e-mail to correspond with citizens.

Both situations hamper our ability to communicate with our elected representatives and illustrate just how much progress has yet to be made in the electronic arena. Our government, and its citizens, do not yet understand the true power of this new medium. It is just this lack of understanding in the U.S. government that has spawned the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and allows silly patents like Amazon’s “One Click Shopping” to be approved.

I know that changes to these problems can’t be legislated; they will be remedied over time as more computer literate citizens join the ranks of civil service. Some of these issues could be solved with better staffing and more creative IT solutions. In the meantime, don’t stop e-mailing your elected representatives. Your voice is as important as the next person’s, and these new lines of communication are open. And perhaps one day, anyone will be able to receive an e-mail from the President of the United States without first reading it on the cover of a major daily.

Garth Gillespie is architect and chief technologist for ComputerUser.com.

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