Technology: a double-edged sword

Most of the time we think technology is good for us, good for our government, good for our society. It makes life easier and more convenient hence technology has become an integral part of the way we live. A couple of decades ago most people struggle to use or adapt to new technologies. Nowadays, we struggle to make it through the day without it like social media: Facebook and Instagram right? Does it always bring about good things then? Sometimes it doesn’t as with some things in Tulsa.

To put the aforementioned into context, let me share an informative and interesting meeting with Cathy Criswell during our 3rd week in Tulsa. Cathy is the city auditor. Interestingly she is also elected like the Mayor and the City Council members. She serves a 2-year term and her office forms the City’s 3rd branch of the city local government. Cathy discussed to us several topics regarding the local government of Tulsa. She discussed the challenges that the City face and even went on to explain some intergovernmental processes between the City of Tulsa, Tulsa County, and the State of Oklahoma.

pic with Cathy Criswell

One of the challenges that the City government face is how to get more citizens involved in governance. To put this into perspective, voter turnout in the city’s polls is usually below 50%. This means that most citizens are not even interested in exercising their basic fundamental right to suffrage. Technology however is changing the landscape. The use of website technology has allowed the City to disseminate vital information to the citizens in the most cost effective way. Moreover social media technology has enabled citizens to engage their government from the comfort of their homes or wherever they are. These increased citizen involvement. Slowly, more and more citizens start to be in engaged with the City in ways such as community reporting and online public discourse on various issues that affect the City. Technology has become an enabler.

On the other-hand, one of the negative effects of technology, such as the Internet, is a reduction in sales tax collection. Oklahoma state law states that sales tax must be collected for sales done within the territory of the State. Online retailers, however that are not based in state of Oklahoma, like Amazon and others, have made it difficult. This problem is not unique for Tulsa. It is shared by the whole State. Sales are a major source of taxes hence its effect significant. What the government is now working on is to get these online retailers to collect taxes for them through agreements or legislation of appropriate laws. Online retailers could also mean a reduction of sales in physical stores in the State. Technology, in this case, had an adverse effect.

My take is that technology is a tool that we must harness to ensure that we maximize its benefit and control the negative effects just like how a sword master wields a sword.

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