Empowerment via the new media

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, young African Americans and Hispanics are among the most avid users of the internet, accessed by lower-cost mobile phones, instead of computers. This may be the beginning of a reversal of a decade-old trend of lagging computer use in minority households, which would add to existing handicaps.

I still receive -- and welcome -- the old reliable cards and letters. There's really nothing like a handwritten note from a constituent you've known for years. To keep the residents of my district abreast of what I'm doing for them in Washington, I also continue producing printed newsletters, which are delivered by mail to every residence and business address in Upper Manhattan.

But times are changing fast. In recent years, the bulk of communications from constituents are received by fax or e-mails -- instead of paper snail mail. Likewise, I am increasingly using electronic methods to send my messages out to constituents -- such as Twitter and Facebook, in addition to weekly e-newsletters. More recently, I've started to utilize a variety of even more innovative online and mobile applications. Using more sophisticated interactive applications, I am increasingly engaging in two-way conversations with my constituents.

Just last June, I reached out to more than 80,000 residents of my district in four telephone town hall meetings. These electronic gatherings allowed thousands of constituents to hear from me on a variety of important subjects, from health care reform to jobs -- without leaving their homes. In the same conversation, they were able to ask me questions (and get immediate responses from me), or to correspond with me later via my congressional website.

The so-called new media allows me to communicate directly with my constituents -- without the filter of the news media. That doesn't make the press any less important in providing in-depth information and analysis. Rather, this direct, timely, and unbiased flow of data increasingly enables my constituents to receive, and react to, the most recent developments in Washington far faster than in the past. That's good for democracy and for the residents of my district.

Just last week, I became the first member of Congress to launch a new online and mobile application that allows me to share my voting record and viewpoints on major bills. It will also enable me to poll constituents on vital issues via their Facebook accounts or smartphones.

This application is my latest effort to interact with younger, tech-savvy constituents, and nearly 500 of them are already using this vote and polling application. It is also part of a trend of growing internet usage by younger people (most notably African American and Hispanic) in urban centers such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. What we're witnessing is the shrinking of the so-called racial digital divide of the last decade.

I want to utilize every possible means of communication to interact with everyone in my district. And I believe engagement with cutting-edge technology not only enhances our democracy but empowers us as we compete with the rest of the world.

Cross Posted from the Huffington Post