The digital and information revolutions have changed nearly every aspect of our lives. With the increasing popularity of smartphones, tablet computers and laptops, many Americans are connected to the Internet almost constantly. This rapidly increasing ubiquity of the Internet has helped people connect across geographic and cultural barriers.
Community communication is changing. While we in government sometimes still think of the “community meeting” — scheduled two or three weeks in advance, on a weekday night, advertised by signs and newspaper articles — our community members are communicating differently. They jump on Facebook or onto myneighborhood.com for everything from pediatrician referrals to details of the car accident that occurred 10 minutes ago. Fifty community members may communicate in one afternoon on a topic that arose that day, while only 20 may come to a traditional community meeting in two weeks.
As the world adapts to accommodate the new digital reality, local government must do the same. Fairfax County has been a trailblazer among local governments, using social media and its website to spread information and offer services. However, many citizens are not aware of the existing opportunities to connect with their government quickly and easily through the Web.
The Internet can be used to empower people, and that’s why I’m hosting a technology focused town hall meeting on June 1. We’ll have speakers there to teach you how to use the Internet and Internet-connected devices to keep communities more civicly engaged, and even how you can pay your taxes without ever having to leave your house. We’ll also have breakout sessions on how to use the Internet and social media during emergency situations. The town hall will be a great opportunity to learn how to connect with your government in all areas. Finally, renowned futurist Rick Smyre will help us peer into the future to see where rapidly advancing technology will take us.
At my office we’ve already been working to connect with residents every way we can. Twitter still confounds me sometimes, but I try to “tweet” updates regularly through my personal account, @JohnCookVA. Following me there is a great and easy way for you to know what your supervisor is up to. We also maintain a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/supervisorcook. My office posts photos and community information regularly. You can also leave feedback for us right there. Much easier than making a phone call or trekking all the way to our office!
There will never be a replacement for a town hall meeting or community potluck dinner. Nothing can replace the importance of face-to-face contact. Talking, laughing and even fighting together helps keep our democracy strong and thriving. However, there are new tools out there that can help us connect more often with more people. We hope you’ll join us at 9 a.m. on June 1 at Finance Park, Frost Middle School, 4101 Pickett Road, Fairfax. For more information, you can sign up for my email newsletters by either texting “cooknews” to 22828 or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Beacon” in the subject line. If you do plan on attending, please try to bring a laptop, tablet or smartphone if you have one. This will help you follow along during workshops.
I hope to see you there. And if not, well, I hope to see you on Twitter or Facebook.