Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Sunday, June 14, 2015

City Council and the dark side of hand-held devices

Texting, furious but surreptitious, has been noticed at Council meetings.
When the light at Plainfield Avenue and West 7th went green, the car ahead of me just sat there, the driver's head bent down as if they were nodding off . . . or texting.

I gave a beep and off we went.

The incident reminded me of a recent essay by the writer Rand Richards Cooper, a film reviewer for Commonweal magazine, one of my favorite reads.

Cooper used a similar incident as an illustration for his lament that our hand-held devices are having unintended consequences. He cites groups of people, who in the old days would have been engaged in face-to-face conversation, now each intent on the text messages, emails and Facebook posts on their hand-helds.

And he notices people alone -- a man walking his dog on a glorious fall day -- totally absorbed in their hand-helds.

Cooper opines that hand-helds are destroying our ability to enjoy conversation with our friends, family and loved ones, and even distract us from enjoying the beauty around us.

I am not so sure we need fear a total retreat into hand-helds. Humans are too social; in the long haul I think we will balance it all out.

But there is another aspect of hand-helds that is darker and more problematic.

I have noticed councilors at public meetings of the City Council furiously -- if surreptitiously -- texting someone or other in the heat of deliberations.

This use of hand-helds is disturbing because it leaves the public out of othe conversation.

In fact, Sen. Loretta Weinberg has become so concerned about this abuse that her proposed updating of the Open Public Meetings Act and the Open Public Records Act would specifically bar elected officials from communication with each other during meetings by text, email or IM (instant messaging).

It's one of several updates to the two laws that Weinberg has proposed.

Unfortunately, her bills met another speed bump this past week (see the Ledger story here), when the measures stalled just before a Senate committee was to vote on them.

It's frustrating to Weinberg, whose attempts to update the two laws date back to 2012, according to a report in NJ Spotlight (see here).

Says Weinberg of the latest twist in the road, "Well, people have questions that have not been put to me yet." After all this time.

So, for now, Plainfield councilors can still busily text and IM during public meetings -- to whomever and about whatever.

For now.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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