Politicians struggle with email, phone calls poised for comeback

March 13, 2015

Email seems to be a dicey technology for politicians, whether they use it or not. Hillary Clinton may regret using it, as she faces questions regarding cybersecurity and requirements to preserve public records during her stint as Secretary of State. Some U.S. senators proudly—even defiantly—eschew email, but they risk coming off as luddites. But wait—maybe these senators are on the forefront of the next big thing—the return of the phone call!

Catherine Rampell is a Millennial-generation opinion writer for The Washington Post. She quotes 59-year-old Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as saying on Meet the Press, “I don’t e-mail. No, you can have every e-mail I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”

She adds, “Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the Times ‘with evident relish’ (reporter Ashley Parker’s characterization) that ‘maybe once every four months, I do one e-mail.’” Schumer is 64.

Rampell contends that anyone under 40 should be upset by such aversion to email. She lists other legislators as well who don’t use email, writing, “These legislators probably would have been considered behind the times in 1998. Yet for the most part they point to their reluctance to learn and use 20th-century workplace tools with pride, as if it were evidence of their authenticity and social purity; apparently they believe a preference for quill and parchment demonstrates their heartfelt desire for thoughtfulness and intimacy.”

She notes that the aversion to email may stem from a desire not to keep records or leave a paper trail, but adds, “…the casualness with which these senators acknowledge such habits reveals something scarier, at least to those born after about 1980: how utterly uninterested they are in understanding the daily experience, workplace expectations, or priorities of their younger constituents.”

(Full disclosure: I have a Millennial-age son who seems not to use email, at least to communicate with his father.)

I agree with Rampell, except for the 35- or 40-year cutoff date. According to Statista, 88% of Americans aged 50 to 64—Graham and Schumer’s cohort—use the Internet (January 2014 figures). And 57% of Americans 65 and older go online. (The figures don’t single out email, but an infographic based on 2010 data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that the overwhelming majority of Internet users across all age groups use email. If anything, it’s teenagers who are the least enthusiastic email users.)

But perhaps the luddites are on to something. Today’s Wall Street Journal carries an article with this headline: “Move Over, Email—the Business Phone Call Is Back.” Writes Shira Ovide, “The office phone call has been losing ground since email burst into the workplace, and many people now use their smartphone for almost everything except talking. But voice communications are making a comeback as companies vying for a piece of the $1.6 trillion office-telephony market reinvent the phone call.” Those companies include Switch, Twilio, Talko, and Biba.

My money is still on email, and I’d advise politicians to get online—making sure, of course, to follow all relevant security protocols and to meet all public record archival requirements.

About the Author

Rick Nelson | Contributing Editor

Rick is currently Contributing Technical Editor. He was Executive Editor for EE in 2011-2018. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.

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