Staff editorial: Info discrimination is a real problem
The Internet has been described as the greatest channel in history to spread democracy across the globe. But it may be that it will also take away the chance for information from some in our world.
For now the growth of information that is available to people on the Internet seems to be the story. But what about a case where information is being either changed in message or access restricted by the fact that not everyone has access to it?
This land was founded on a process of majority rule, but for the last half of the century we have been more concerned than ever about protecting individual rights and seeing that minorities get their due. Whether it be race, religion, politics or ethnic background, most people are now sensitive to the rights of individuals. We have also become more sensitive to those that suffer from mental illness, addictions and those that have mental deficiencies. Yet have we considered those in our society that just either don't know how to access the Internet, can't afford a computer or can't get to a place that has a computer to learn about what is going on?
The other day a woman called me and asked me about some information she needed to get from a department of the Utah State government. I told her that the information could be found at the entities website and I gave her the address. She then told me she didn't know how to use a computer, that she didn't have one and if I could give her a phone number on how to access what she needed she would be pleased. I found the phone number and passed it along. A few minutes later she called me back and told me that she had spoken with someone in the department and that they had been very rude to her when she asked for the information to be sent to her. She said the woman on the other end of the line told her "If you can't go to the website and look it up you will just have to have someone do it for you because I don't have time."
One of the things that has made this country and the development of democracy grow has always been information. Modern society as we know it today could never have grown to where it is without the printing press being invented, allowing millions of people access to ideas that they then expanded gical development. In the early days, if you couldn't read then your chances for growth were very limited. We know today it is more important for kids to learn how to read than ever; without those skills they could be easily left behind by society.
Then came radio and later television, which while may having dumbed down some people's minds because they stopped reading and considering things more deeply, still allowed masses of people to learn about things through their ears and their eyes.
Now we have the Internet which uses all these processes, and can be a boon to mankind. But as I have shown above, can also be a restriction for some.
With these developments in the last 20 years does that mean we should abandon earlier modes of transmitting information into people's heads? And does it mean everyone should have to fit into a cyber mold, or lose their ability to communicate with their government? It doesn't, but with some who are on the cutting edge of technology they obviously see it differently.
While most businesses still understand the worth of a good human relationship, government seems to be headed down a road that would only let those who are capable of Internet navigation interact with it. In the last legislative session a number of people in our state legislature took up the cause of posting legal notices only on a state website and eliminating them from print publication entirely. After a lot of fighting and torment they finally let the Utah Press Association set up a website to allow people to look up legal notices, while still being able to view them in newspapers as well. This gives everyone the chance to see them. But for now the legislators are in the trial mode on this. Many still want the state to run the site and to stop putting these notices in print. They say that state government, in fact society, has passed by the day of having to place anything in print. They say that everything should only exist in cyberspace. But problems with doing that include proof of publication (i.e. Did that meeting on that controversial subject get advertised or not?) and the ability for a notice to touch all the people who may be interested (those with and without computer access). In addition, having state employees who answer to powers above them run a web site that is supposed to provide information on sometimes controversial subjects could be like having your house cat mind your parakeet while you are away on vacation.
The state recently set up a site to make notice of all public meetings across the state available to the public. It used to be that the entities that were having meetings at any local or state governmental level needed to fax or distribute the agenda for a meeting 24 hours beforehand to the media. But now they just have to post it on the website. The site was supposed to be set up so that those notices would then go out to the local media in a timely fashion, but that hasn't worked very well. That means local media may not know about a meeting and consequently not have someone there to cover it. The biggest loser in this kind of thing is you, the citizen.
However some local agencies are still sending out faxes despite the fact they don't need to. That shows a willingness in local government that the state level politicians seem to be lacking. It seems some in state government would like the media and consequently you, to just go away and let them do their thing.
As boring as it all sounds, this is important. It's about the issue of the people's right to know, all the people. Without knowledge how can the people make good decisions about who to vote for? Some of those in power would like nothing more than for you not to be able to read about their antics at the state capitol.
Citizens need to demand that information from government, whether it be concerning a simple planning or zoning change or a notice highlighting a major change in law that affects everyone, be conveyed to the public in every way possible.
Don't let them obscure your view of what is going on with an electronic curtain.