Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan -- the youngest of the Supremes at age 53 -- dropped a bombshell Tuesday when she described the men and women who sit on the country's highest bench as "not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people." The real zinger was this: "The court hasn't really 'gotten to' email."
It was a Whoa Nelly moment if ever there was one. After all, even the dinosaurs emailed, didn't they? Tyrannosaurus Rex might not have been pinning photos of his new cave or sharing photos of last night's dinner on Facebook, but doesn't everyone -- everyone -- email today?
Apparently not, said Kagan. Kagan reported that not much has changed in terms of communication among the justices since she clerked for the late Thurgood Marshall in 1987. Back then -- and still now -- the justices would write out their memos on paper to be delivered by someone called a chambers' aide, Kagan said. We suppose there is an upside to not ever having a big oopsie moment -- you know, when you hit the send button and realize your missive inadvertently went to the whole U.S. government instead of just Antonin Scalia.
The one issue I have with the news that the Supremes are three steps behind the rest of the civilized world is this: The word that they don't even email is likely to perpetuate the myth that older people aren't online and are too technologically challenged to ever learn to be. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Recent research shows that baby boomers are the fastest-growing segment of smartphone owners. And nearly half of all seniors -- defined as people 67 and older (which includes a significant percentage of the Supreme Court) -- are on Facebook. Folks 45 to 66 comprise a third of all Internet users -- and many of them describe themselves as "heavy" online users.
We shop, we learn, we share and we connect with our friends and family online. And yes, we email (and increasingly, we text). So where are the Supremes in all this?
Surely the nation's highest court needs to understand how the digital world works -- especially as they are likely to be facing more issues related to privacy, surveillance and technology down the road. When the Supremes need to know about Edward Snowden and how he did what he did -- and how the National Security Agency did what it did -- I trust they will get themselves up to speed on it. And how will they likely do that? By asking their young law clerks to explain it to them most likely.
But surely emailing one another would be a good place to start. But for now, for those who would like to suggest this will have to call. The website provides phone numbers, a snail mail address and a form to fill out if you would like a reply -- but not a general email address.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that a majority of the Supreme Court justices are 67 or older. In fact, only four of the nine fall into that age group.
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