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Can Congress cope with communications age?

POSTED: April 22, 2009 11:16 a.m.
When I first went to Congress in the 1960s, dialogue between members of Congress and their constituents was straightforward — you’d go on radio or television, send a newsletter home, and talk to constituents by telephone or at meetings back in the district.
Today, we have superb communications technology — from e-mail to blogs to Facebook — but ironically it’s made actual communication more difficult.
A big part of the challenge is sheer volume. Members of Congress and their staffs are overwhelmed by the electronic communications that flood their offices every day.
A representative democracy depends on the give-and-take between lawmakers and those they represent. So it’s vital that members of Congress learn to manage immense volumes of electronic mail and let constituents know the most effective ways of passing along their thoughts
 For their part, voters shouldn’t just assume that a quick e-mail will command attention. In the age of instant communications, it’s not just the volume of words but the quality of the communication that matters.

Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.
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