Getting one’s own email

Published 3:41 pm Monday, May 30, 2011

There was a time when the best way to contact your City Council member with a complaint or concern about city business was to look in the telephone book for his or her phone number and then pick up the phone and make a call. It was a time of personal communication, when one could gauge the attentiveness of the person on the other end of the line by the tone of voice, by pauses in the conversation and the give and take that happens when two people chat — if not face to face, then at least on opposite ends of the phone line.

Communication has changed in many ways since that time. Texting, Facebook messages, online chats and email are all technologies that were unheard of 20 years ago, but each is growing in popularity as old-fashioned telephone calls increasingly occupy less of our time. With the preponderance of smartphones and other portable Internet devices, using the phone to actually talk to a live person sometimes seems almost anachronistic.

Surely, some of the personal connection has been lost in the exchange. It’s very hard to distinguish sarcasm in an email, for instance, though the voice usually gives it away almost immediately. But there’s an immediacy in texts that is satisfying to the Internet generation, and emails give the senders and the recipients a lasting record of the conversation that doesn’t exist with a telephone call.

Email newsletter signup

Suffolk City Council members have stepped gingerly into this new wave, allowing the administration to set up a system whereby emails sent to the addresses listed on the city’s website go first to the city clerk before being delivered to the council member to whom they’re addressed. Some are sent to council members’ personal email addresses, some are faxed and some are printed to be picked up later.

It’s a clunky system for which there is no good reason in a city that prides itself on the fact that it hosts companies with some of the top technology in the nation. With a Lockheed Martin in town, it seems a mockery that some council members aren’t even connected to email.

There’s very little excuse for them not to be electronically savvy, especially in light of the growing population that corresponds almost exclusively via bits and bytes.

And a system that doesn’t allow constituents to contact their council members directly by email about concerns that could include complaints about city administrators and the programs they run can leave those constituents feeling that they have no guarantee their representatives will ever see the messages they send.

In the second decade of the 21st century — and in a city as technologically savvy as Suffolk — having a computer, Internet access and a personal email account should be part and parcel of the job of serving on City Council. And checking those emails personally should be a daily part of that job.