As summer ends and the fall legislative session begins in Congress, its worth taking a few minutes to consider the differences between two worlds: those who live and breathe on the network and those who think of online communication as more like a phone call or a TV show than a constant, reliable presence. This is the first look—inspired by a conversation I had last week with The Gillmor Gang—at how these attitudes will affect digital politics in the coming year. This week, we look at the not-so-technical crowd. Next week, well look at tech-savvy attitudes.
The first thing tech folks might want to remember about Washington is that congressmen dont really make their own phone calls. The other little fact: Many of them dont type.
They have cell phones and Blackberries, of course. But much of the time, those devices are carried by the staff member who is escorting the senator or congressman that day. It is that person—colloquially known as "the guy" because he usually is—who is charged with answering the phone and responding to any urgent pages, including making sure the lawmaker makes it to the House or Senate floor for a vote.
The Internet is uncharted territory for these people, filled with rumors and porn and worse. They have heard of AOL and Microsoft, but they dont know Craigslist.org or HotorNot.com. They think Microsofts interests are aligned with Silicon Valley. "Open source," if theyve heard of it, makes no sense to them. Theyve never used Google maps. And most are pretty sure this blogging phenomena is a passing fad. And they dont know too many other folks who think differently than they do.
In other words, theres a bit of distance between the people who craft legislation that affects technology, the technology, and the people who use and rely on it. Thats important to remember as Congress begins consideration of two pieces of legislation thats going to be important to the tech businesses: Copyright law and the rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act