How Social Media Actively Shapes U.S. Politics

They may be the oldest Congress in U.S. history, but elected officials in Washington D.C. are no slouches when it comes to technology. It’s no secret that President Obama is addicted to his Blackberry, but what about the rest of the elected officials?

In this morning’s The Hill, there is a piece about how a surprisingly high number of senators and representatives are using their smartphones to keep in touch. They’re using the Internet to not only surf the web but to actually stay in touch with constituents, something previously unheard of in politics. This makes the check and balance system a bit more transparent as it is now easier for elected officials to hear from voters and vice versa.

So what do the leaders do with their relatively newfound abilities? While the majority of time is spent doing things that an average user does (check the weather, sports scores, etc.), there are also times when phones are used as factcheckers. No longer do senators and reps stand idly by while a fellow congressman or congresswoman spouts facts and figures that are incorrect.

“I’ve used it sometimes to answer questions at the hearings,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “Once there was some historical figure — I can’t remember who — and a question came up about his age, and I thought he [the speaker] was wrong. So I surfed the Web and found out he was making a mistake and corrected him.”

And then there are the curmudgeons who are hesitant to embrace technology:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) doesn’t own one. “What’s the use, when everyone around me has one?” he said. “If I need to find something out, I’ll ask one of them.”

And there are even the James Bonds of the senate:

When Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) got stranded in a malfunctioning Senate subway car on his way to preside over the floor, he had to get creative to get a signal. His legislative aides couldn’t get wireless service underground, but he managed to eke out a text message to people on the floor.

“I couldn’t get off … but I always remembered something about these phones and their text-message abilities, so I put it next to the train’s metal rail, using it as an antenna, and somehow got a message out,” he said. “Worked like a charm. I’ve done that on elevators too. I’ve been talking to someone, then pop it onto speaker, then set it against the wall, and more than likely I can keep the connection.”

Despite D.C. laws barring the use of hand-held cell phones on the road, senators from nearby states such as Mikulski and Cardin said they even use their BlackBerrys to help navigate traffic during their commutes to and from Washington.

“It seems like it’s updated every 20 minutes,” said Cardin. “It is very valuable, and it saves me a lot of time. I even use the alarm clock feature when I’m out of town, because it glows at night. There’s a lot of features on this thing. My calendar’s even updated every minute, so I never have to carry paper. It’s a very valuable part of my life.”

I find myself a bit more respectful of elected officials who embrace social media and technology in general. Technology is obviously shaping our lives every day, why not let it shape U.S. politics as well?