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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Evelyn Trammell
May 13, 2016
There is an increased effort from local governments nationwide to adapt to the changing U.S. demographic. There is a push for governments to establish social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The White House even has a page with over 6 million followers! Local governments use of technology to market to a younger demographic is not limited to social media. Email blasts are being used to inform and advertise city events to the public. Query links on city Web pages are being utilized to as a convenient method of communication as well. However, this does not necessarily spread access equally to all demographics.
The development of mobile applications allows real time information and updates. One example is transportation applications. Miami-Dade County has an application called MDT tracker which provides information on routes and schedules for the county’s Metrobus, Metrorail and Metromover. It also provides real time alerts that advise users of delays. Another interesting component consists of the ability to plan a trip using public transit and includes links to popular destinations. Lastly, the application can help one find a nearby stop by using their location. This makes, what used to be stigmatized as a hassle, into an easy and convenient experience with public transit. This is only one example of an initiative being used in a large metropolitan area. But what about those without smart phones to access these types of applications?
Technology is all about access and convenience. There is, however, a certain demographic whose access to government is dwindling. According to the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, 14.5 percent of the population is 65 years and over. Additional census data from 2013 reports that 58.3 percent of households, where householder is 65 years and older, has use Internet and 65.1 percent owns a computer. This is helpful for those householders to receive email blasts, make online inquires and limitedly participate in social media. These percentages seem impressive until it is realized that the amount of households with householders 65 and over that do not have a computer or Internet access is in the millions! This is not even counting the percentage of the population without smart phones with which to access mobile applications. This indicates that information is not truly accessible to all.
It is the responsibility of local governments to provide service and access to their community. While there is an impressive effort to innovate and update systems, it seems as though a generation of the community is being left behind. The older demographic is not forgotten on purpose. It is the intention of local governments to better serve their community. The result is, however, a forgotten generation.
It is important to sustain communication and access with this forgotten demographic. The challenge that government faces is how to appeal to Generation X, Generation Y and millennials, while continuing to provide services to the silent generation and baby boomers. Local governments are arguably better equipped to reach those who have been left out of the technology push. Therefore, there should be initiatives taken at the local level to serve and communicate with this demographic.
As the Internet, social media and mobile applications become the trend and ultimately the way government operates, it is important during the development and implementation to incorporate ways of access for an aging demographic. Technology provides benefits that surely outweigh the disadvantages. However, if those disadvantages are specifically impacting a specific group, deeper consideration is essential.
In conclusion, this article is not meant to be a petition piece that is against technology. Nor is it meant to be a protest for the elderly. It is, however, a call for local governments to be aware every member of their community.
There are those that are able to access, utilize and benefit from technological advances and there are those that are not direct beneficiaries of such efforts. It may be worthwhile for local governments to invest in addressing these challenges. This may also provide an interesting area of academic research if literature has not already addressed this. Whether research or practice takes the lead, the overarching focus should be access and communication between government and every member of the community.
Author: Evelyn is an ASPA member and doctoral student in the public affairs program at Florida International University. Her educational background consists of a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in International Relations and Religious Studies, a Master’s in Public Administration from Florida International University and a Certificate in Public Procurement from Florida Atlantic University. She has five years of experience in municipal government and is employed with the City of Sunny Isles Beach. Contact: [email protected].