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Commentary: Technology is key to success for U.S.

  • Story Highlights
  • Jared Polis: Technology is making burdensome tasks easy and fun
  • In Congress, he says, technology is evolving while traditions endure
  • Polis: Obama administration can use technology to reform education, health
  • He says Internet communication is key to opportunity for Americans
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By Jared Polis
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, represents Colorado's 2nd District in Congress and is appearing in's "Freshman Year" series along with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah.

Rep. Jared Polis says Obama can harness technology to reform schools and health care.

Rep. Jared Polis says Obama can harness technology to reform schools and health care.

(CNN) -- Technology improves our lives in so many ways -- from our toasters, ovens and refrigerators at home, to our computers, fax machines and BlackBerrys at work. Technology makes once burdensome tasks easy and fun.

When I was first elected to the Colorado State Board of Education in 2000, we had to carry a big binder filled with hundreds of pages to every meeting. By 2004, the State Board had gone paperless. We even persuaded the less tech-savvy members to use laptops to pull up their information during meetings.

Fast forward to 2009.

Now that I serve in Congress, it can be really tough finding the right balance between politely following convention and trying to work as efficiently as possible for the people of Colorado.

From my own perspective, I value productivity more than tradition, but the customs of the House evolve slowly. I try to keep everything electronic.

Far from a paperless office, however, the use of electronic devices during official business is frowned upon in this institution and we are not allowed to use laptops on the floor of the House. Fortunately, I recently discovered a small room off a corner of the House floor where three networked computers are available for use between votes.

Ties must be worn on the floor and in committee. Coming from the more informal tech industry, as well as our laid-back Colorado customs, I am used to dressing casually with a turtleneck in winter and a polo shirt in summer under my suit coat. (The dress shoes are killing me.)

Creating a sustainable, economic, social and ecological environment that provides everyone the opportunity to succeed is my mission in Congress. I think that opportunity is the foundation of what makes us who we are as a nation. And a critical part of unleashing this opportunity is taking full advantage of the benefits of the Internet.

Through my own new media, online and blogging efforts, I am trying to make the work we do on Capitol Hill open and accessible to everyone. The Obama administration seems interested in doing the same.

For instance, to help bring the economic stimulus package to everyday Americans, President Obama established, so people can do research, find benefits and even comment on provisions of the bill. President Obama carries a BlackBerry. The White House, in another first, has its own blog. More and more, the Internet is the tool by which Americans will recognize and capture opportunities to grow and succeed.

With my background as chairman of the State Board of Education and a school superintendent in Colorado, many readers may know by now that education is a pillar of my public policy agenda. The Internet has revolutionized this field. From the ease of research that it affords teachers and students, down to actual online course work for students of all ages, more people have access to quality learning than ever before, thanks to the Internet. Again, opportunity through innovation can change lives.

Through Web-based medical records, hospital forms and appointment reservation services, people can more conveniently access health care services. The Recovery Act that the president recently signed into law provides $19 billion for Healthcare IT upgrades to help bring new efficiencies to our health care system.

It's funny that some consider blogs and tweets self-indulgent ego trips. In reality, they can be more humbling than anything else. If a blog falls in the forest, but no one reads it, does it make a sound? I consider blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of new media to be important vehicles for transparency and accountability in government. They allow me to send out unfiltered updates about what I'm working on and receive instant feedback.

While, personally, I am firmly of the new media generation, I must remember, as Mark Twain said, to "never pick a fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel."

On a recent Saturday, speaking to a group of bloggers, I talked about the rise, power and influence of the blogosphere in relation to the recent closure of one of our local newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News. In my remarks, I said "the media is dead...long live new media" and that the rise of new media was "mostly for the better." Predictably, my statements were vilified by (Monty Python voice) "not-dead-yet" newspaper columnists out to decry my insensitivity during a troubled time in their industry.

Let me be clear, I did not mean to suggest that blogs should replace newspapers in society. I grew up reading the Rocky Mountain News, and its demise and the loss of more than 200 jobs is a major blow to our community, especially in these troubled times.

We were proud to have a city that had two powerful voices, two daily venues for informing the public and a diversity of editorial voices. Not only has Colorado lost more than 200 jobs, but a strong voice for the people also has been silenced.

I apologized to the entire Rocky Mountain News family and anyone who was offended by my recent remarks. I truly hope that the newspaper industry finds a way to survive and to support its news-gathering activities that play such a vital role in our democracy.

The remarkable thing is that my comments echoed across the Internet and appeared in papers as far away as Rochester, New York; Kansas City, Missouri; and Augusta, Georgia. So, my first 15 minutes of fame portrayed a grotesque version of me as newspaper-slayer, a very unlikely and ill-fitting role for me indeed.

While many other factors are contributing to the decline of the newspaper industry, such as the recession and a decline in advertising, the very fact that we are discussing this issue here, on a major, mainstream news network's Web site, is a demonstration of the indisputable rise of new media.

From business to social networking, I believe Internet communication is the key to bringing opportunity to the American people. I look forward to a more efficient, integrated and online future when Congress will shed some of the worn-out baggage of today's paperwork and red tape and help bring the institution to new heights in governing our nation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jared Polis.

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