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Technology

Wyoming Voters: How To Turn Off Facebook’s Annoying Voter Reminders

in News/Technology
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***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

We noticed Cowboy State Daily columnist Dave Simpson was bothered by incessant voting reminders that plagued him whenever he opened up his Facebook page.

“I’ve voted in every election for the last 48 years. Thanks for all the reminders to vote, FB, but I don’t need your constant harping to get me to the polls,” he said to Facebook.

That got us to thinking: there’s gotta be a way to turn off that reminder.

We’re all for voting. We like voting. We prefer voting to anarchy, in fact.

But, if you don’t need the reminder, there should be a way to kill it.

With a little bit of sleuthing, we found the answer.

On your mobile phone, click the three lines at the bottom right of your screen. 

Scroll until you see an item called “See More.”  Click it.

Scroll until you see “Town Hall”.  Click it.

Look to your upper right and click on “Settings”.

At the very bottom, you’ll see a field called “Voting Reminders”.  Swipe the nob to the left.

On your desktop, look at the nav bar on the far left. Click “See More”.

Scroll down to “Town Hall”. Click on it.

On your far right, you’ll see “Voting Reminders”.  Click on it.

You will no longer get voting reminders.

Again, we prefer voting. We’re not encouraging coups or military overthrows or Chicago-style violence.

But if you are quite content in your voting plans and you’re tired of seeing the reminders, consider us your friendly helpers.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

FCC Chairman Visits Wind River Reservation for Gigabit-Speed Broadband Deployment

in News/Technology
Wyoming broadband
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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai visited the Wind River Reservation on Tuesday to tour areas that are receiving funding from the FCC to deploy gigabit-speed broadband.

Wind River Internet is receiving over $4 million from the Connect America Fund Phase II auction to deploy gigabit speed service to 849 rural homes and businesses on the reservation.

“Bringing high-speed connectivity to rural Tribal lands can be a game-changer,” said Chairman Pai.

“That’s why bridging the digital divide is my top priority,” Pai said. “I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit the Wind River Indian Reservation today to see firsthand the gigabit-speed broadband deployment. This will be critical to providing those living there with access to digital opportunity.”

The Connect America Fund Phase II auction is part of a broader effort by the FCC to close the digital divide in the United States.

In addition to the funding that is being made available through this auction, the FCC recently voted to launch the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which will further advance broadband deployment throughout rural America, including on Tribal lands. 

Wyoming Drone Pilots Have Concerns About Proposed FAA Rules

in News/Technology
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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Several Wyoming drone pilots are expressing some concerns about proposed FAA rules that would require drones to broadcast user ID information.

While the pilots said they were generally open to the idea proposed as a way to improve the safety of drone operations, they also expressed concern about invasion of privacy and whether all drones could handle the technical requirements of the new rules.

“(A)s far as airspace usage, drones are safe, there have only been three confirmed incidents of drone and aircraft collisions,” said Nathan Rogers, a commercial drone pilot for Noetic Creative, a company that operates drones in Wyoming. “I find my pilot information being publicly available to be an invasion of my privacy, plus, none of the drones I currently fly would work with this system.”

Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS, are most commonly used for aerial photography by hobbyists, but a growing number are used commercially. The most commonly used drones are defined by the FAA as “…an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds on takeoff…” 

However, drones can be large or small and used for many purposes. In Wyoming, commercial uses range from oil rig and pipeline inspection to ranching and livestock inspection. Realtors sometimes use drones commercially to take aerial pictures of their listings. 

With the growing number of drones in the skies, it is the FAA’s aim to adopt rules that would make the operation of any drone safer for all. 

Currently, all drones weighing more than 249 grams — about one-half pound — need to be registered with the FAA via its website, faadronezone.faa.gov Additionally, UAS used by commercial pilots fall under a section of FAA rules referred to as “Part 107” that require an operator to obtain a special license and undergo testing.

The newly proposed regulations, which would affect both commercial and recreational drone operators, state that all UAS flown in U.S. airspace would be required to be equipped with remote ID systems. These systems would broadcast information about the drone’s owner, as well as the aircraft’s and controller’s location, to anyone equipped to receive the remote ID broadcast. 

The proposal has generated heated debate nationally. One of the points of debate is whether the public should have access to the same remote ID broadcasts that would be available to law enforcement.

Also proposed are regulations that would require all drones operate with a WiFi or cellular connection to broadcast the ID. Wyoming’s cellular service can be spotty at times and some pilots fear this would ground any drone trying to operate in remote locations. 

Andrew Ruben, a commercial drone operator and owner of Wild Sky in Cheyenne, has perspective on the regulations as both a commercial operator and a first responder. As a volunteer with Laramie County Fire District No. 2, Ruben uses his drone experience for search and rescue work as well as firefighting operations. 

Ruben said he supports the idea of a remote ID for drones because it would promote safe drone operation.

However, he added technical limitations could cause problems with putting the rule into effect.

“I just have questions about its implementation, and the issues of rural places that have lower connectivity, especially when I think about first responders working in those areas,” he said. “The biggest question I have is how this would affect firefighters and law enforcement that are using drones to support their operational objective.” 

Drone sales are on the rise nationwide. According to an FAA report, drone sales could triple by 2023. (https://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation/aerospace_forecasts/media/FY2019- 39_FAA_Aerospace_Forecast.pdf) Whether it’s a hobbyist taking vacation photos, Amazon delivering Internet purchase or a first responder keeping people safe, it is likely an increasing number of drones will share the skies of Wyoming in the future. 

These FAA regulations are in the proposal stage and are currently open for public comment until March 2, 2020. If you would like to read the proposed regulations, and leave your comment, visit https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/12/31/2019-28100/remote-identification-of-unmanned- aircraft-systems 

Nanobots, Fossil Fuel Issues, and the End of Work as We Know It

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Technology
Crowd of robots. 3D illustration
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By Bill Sniffin

With your arms around the future; And your back against the past  — the Moody Blues

One of the high points of our annual New Year’s trip to see Dallas relatives is my yearly visit with the smartest person I know.

Of the 301,000 employees at Hewlett Packard a few years ago, one special employee stood out, their lone futurist, Jeff Wacker.

He is retired now and working on a book.

He also used to live in the same neighborhood as our daughter in Allen, TX.

A Nebraska native, Jeff would fit comfortably in Wyoming. His values and those of the Cowboy State pretty much line up. If his wife Nancy did not have some health issues, he might be living right now on the family homestead in western Nebraska, which he calls “eastern Wyoming.”

He has the same typical bad news for fossil fuels we Wyomingites all are hearing.  But he blames it on an amazing future of batteries and even exotic fuel sources like anti-matter.

He feels strongly that the hysteria about global warming is over-stated. He is an expert on just about everything. He challenges folks who believe Al Gore to dig into where that “90 percent of scientists believe  . . .” story came from. He says we are in a 1,000-year cycle and the heating of the earth occurs 600 years after CO2 increases.   

As a futurist, he thinks on a global scale and in big pictures.  He worries about eternal life.  “We are very close to providing a path where people don’t have to die, that one of the biggest future problems will be should we die and how should we die. Suicide?”

He also says the future of work could be the biggest issue of the 21st century. Automation, unique robots including microscopic nanobots, and Artificial Intelligence will continue to erode the job market.  “I have a friend who says we will always need people to keep the robots running – really? We already have robots that repair other robots.”

He divides all the various technologies into five areas:

• Nanotech is the creation of super tiny robots that can float around inside your bloodstream and keep you healthy. He sees billions of nanobots taking care of the trillions of cells in the body.

• Biotech will see cures and inventions occurring at fantastic rates in the near future and far future. Again, he really believes a huge problem for the youngest people living on the planet today is how do they want to die? He believes young people in the near future have the potential to live as long as they want to.  

• Robotech is already changing the world. “What will people do when there are no jobs?”  Typical work week might be 26 hours or less. He says three-fourths of all manufacturing jobs are already  “gone and not coming back.”

• Infotech leaves him discouraged especially when it comes to social media. He quotes a favorite author who said, “When everybody is an author, there are no editors.”

He thinks amazing sensors will be developed on a the micro level while, on a macro level, the world will be covered with satellites similar to the doomsday prediction of the Terminator movies, which saw all those troubles caused by a structure called SkyNet.

• Energytech may see more change than any other sector. “Look back 200 years to 1820.  We have advanced 2,000 years in the past 200 years. This will just accelerate,” he concludes. He also credits it to the gradual warming of the climate over those two centuries. “We went from horse and buggy to planning a Mars launch today.”

In 1820, the most valuable material on earth was aluminum; because it was only created when lightning would strike bauxite.  A nine-inch pyramid-shaped piece of aluminum is used as the cap of the top of the Washington Monument, for example.

Having this chat with Jeff Wacker left my head spinning. We are heading into a strange new world that sounded both hopeful and daunting to me.

He really is worried about the robots with artificial intelligence taking over.  “When it happens, it will happen exponentially, so we probably will not know what hit us until it has already happened!” 

On that dreary note, Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Wyo Tech School Founder Eric Trowbridge to Speak at National Tech Summit

in News/Technology
2678

Eric Trowbridge, the founder of a Cheyenne technology school aimed at introducing students to computer programming, plans to tell attendees at a national technology conference that technology can work in rural America.

Trowbridge, founder and CEO of the Array Technology and Design School, will be one of the speakers at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City at the end of January.

The Cheyenne high school graduate said he plans to tell the more than 20,000 people expected to attend that the technology industry can find a home in rural states like Wyoming.

“The message is that technology can work in rural America,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s a very different animal from doing technology in big cities. The challenge we have in running technology in rural American is … for technology to thrive, you have to have really smart people, you have to have people who understand computer science and programming and graphic design and that’s kind of hard to come by in states like Wyoming.”

But with schools like Array, residents can be trained in the skills needed to sustain a successful technology sector, Trowbridge said.

The state can help with such efforts by making sure it creates a welcoming atmosphere for people who may want to pursue a technology-based career, he said.

“The number one mission should be to try to create the most fertile soil possible so when these seeds get planted, they grow into companies, entrepreneurship,” he said. 

“The things we’re working on now (are) the cultural piece. Having young adults who are in this space, people who want to transition into technology, being able to go see shows and go to restaurants and have that experience,” he said.

The state has made major advances toward welcoming the technology field in recent years, Trowbridge said, through steps such as mandating computer science education for all public school students.

Trowbridge said Wyoming has a history of being the first state in the nation to take bold steps, such as giving women the right to vote, electing a woman as governor and having the first national park and monument.

“It’s not about changing Wyoming, it’s about tapping into our roots,” he said. “It’s in our nature to be pioneers and drivers and cowboys and cowgirls.”

Trowbridge credited much of the state’s progress go former Gov. Matt Mead, who he said recognized the need to make technology the “fourth leg” of the state’s economic base, joining energy, agriculture and tourism.

The resulting boost helped move the state from its reliance on historic industries, he said.

“I think we got too comfortable, we didn’t innovate,” he said. “We just thought things were going to be the way that they were.”

The opportunities for economic diversification offered by the technology industry will help the state overcome the problems it has faced because of its reliance on the energy industry, Trowbridge said.

“At the end of the day, as scary as it is, we have to get off of it because a lot of people get hurt when we go into that bust cycle,” he said. “People lose their jobs and they leave Wyoming.”

Future Proofing our Kids for Tomorrow

in Column/Technology
Microsoft
2578

By Dennis Ellis, special to Cowboy State Daily

It’s been amazing to watch Wyoming become a national policy leader on growing computer science opportunities for our kids, enriching their education and giving them skills to compete in the future.

It’s no surprise that computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the U.S. and that nine out of 10 parents want their children to learn computer science. Many even suggest that 70 percent of students will work in jobs that don’t even exist today. Technological change, economic turbulence and societal transformation are disrupting old career certainties and it is increasingly difficult to judge which degrees and qualifications will be a passport to a well-paid and fulfilling job in the decades ahead.

You can bet your paycheck I want my kids to have at least a basic fluency in computer science so they can be more impactful in whatever career they choose, as nearly every job becomes a technology-driven job, and future proof their careers. Our kids need to move beyond just consuming technology, and begin to learn how to create technology.

For Wyoming to continue to make leaps in giving our children a bright future in the face of such uncertainty, it takes a strong commitment from our policymakers, education system, business community and parents. Here are some great examples of this commitment I see around the state:

Governor Gordon signs a 2019 Computer Science Week Proclamation with Array School students on hand
  • Governor Mark Gordon recently signed a proclamation declaring Computer Science Week, recognizing the importance of providing our students new opportunities.
  • In 2018 Governor Matt Mead signed seminal legislation requiring each school to include computer science and computational thinking opportunities for all Wyoming students.
  • The State of Wyoming is developing K–12 computer science standards, blazing trails on how to provide professional development and micro-credentialing for in-service teachers to bridge the gap in teaching capacity.
  • Last year 60 percent of Wyoming high schools taught at least one computer science course. That’s the third highest rated state west of the Mississippi River and eighth best in the country!
State by State offerings for Computer Science in High School

Addressing the STEM Gap

Because I have two daughters, I’m highly concerned about the gap in STEM and computer science participation for females. We all should be.

Alarmingly, in 1995 just 37 percent of computer scientists were women. Today, only 24 percent of women. If we do nothing, in ten years the number of women in computing will decrease to just 22 percent. We can and must do better. 

No alt text provided for this image

Fortunately, for the sixth year in a row, the percentage of female AP Computer Science exam takers rose, steadily chipping away at the gender gap in high school computer science. Closing the participation gaps in computer science will take years, but there are clear signs that states are on the right path. Wyoming has already launched five Girls Who Code chapters to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.

Microsoft recently partnered with the Array Foundation, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Girls Who Code to launch Cheyenne’s first chapter. The chapter will enable girls to learn computer science from a female role model in the tech industry. Research shows that 31 percent of middle school girls and 40 percent of high school girls believe that jobs requiring coding are not for them. Increasing the amount of female role models can play an important role to shift these perceptions.

Girls Who Code Chapter launch with Array Foundation

Anyone interested in bringing Girls Who Code to their town, or get engaged in other areas of building a strong ecosystem of computer science in your community, contact me or the Array School of Technology and Design and we can help show you a simple playbook to help shape a bright future for Wyoming!

‘Girls Who Code’ chapter to open in Cheyenne

in News/Technology
2560

By Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne company teaching the art of computer programming is launching a Cheyenne chapter of a national organization aimed at encouraging girls to further their computer skills.

The Array School last week hosted an “Hour of Code” to announce the creation of a Cheyenne chapter of “Girls Who Code.”

“It’s for girls who are interested in furthering their computer science knowledge and skills,” said Amy Surdam, of Array School. “So we’re excited to offer that to the Cheyenne community.”

The group’s first function will be a 15-week program that will begin in January with space for 15 students.Surdam said the Array School already has applications from 35 girls seeking spots in the program.

“And there’s still a week open for applications to come in,” she said. “So now we’re going to have the difficult challenge of how do we select the 15 (students) or how do we double the class size.”

The group is working now with 15 computers donated by Cheyenne residents, which were on display during the “Hour of Code,” during which both boys and girls were invited to try their hand at computer programming.

Microsoft is also lending a hand in creation of a “Girls Who Code” chapter in Cheyenne, said Ben McCain, a program manager for the company.

“We’re trying deeply to integrate ourselves with these types of efforts,” he said. “Not just in Cheyenne, but all across the country and throughout the world. Getting kids involved in programming and computer science as early as possible is really pivotal because in today’s economy, every industry revolves around this. There really is no industry that is not affected in some way by computer science and coding.”

AG’s opinion on computer standards is in

in Education/News/Technology
2387

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Board of Education has received an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of proposed computer science standards for the state’s schools, a board member said Friday.

Sue Belish, testifying before the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, said the board will review the opinion from Attorney General Bridget Hill during its meeting next week.

Hill’s office was asked in June to answer several questions about the constitutionality of the standards developed in response to legislation approved almost two years ago.

Belish said without Hill’s opinion, the Board of Education was unable to proceed with the standards. She declined to specify what constitutional questions Hill’s opinion addressed.

Belish’s appearance came in response to a request from Education Committee members in June for an update on the standards.

The standards have been rewritten numerous times, since concern has been expressed from elementary school teachers and the attorney general’s office about various issues. 

The issues included worries about teachers learning computer science requirements in a time crunch.

Attorneys also expressed concern about whether the standards would meet constitutional requirements for public instruction to be uniform, since some schools in the state would only be able to teach to minimum requirements and others would be able to offer expanded programs.

Belish noted it takes a number of months for the content review committee (made up of individuals including teachers and computer scientists) to go through the process of evaluating the standards.

Due to the mixed testimonies the Board of Education received about the then-current standards during its meeting in March, its members asked the content committee to rewrite them, Belish said. 

The committee came back in April with revised standards and benchmarks. 

Belish felt public comment was more positive during that meeting, but since the committee only had one month to rewrite the standards, members only focused on the requirements for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“At that meeting, the board formally approved starting the rule promulgation process,” she said. “It went to the governor, the secretary of state and out for 45-day comment.”

The Department of Education has collected those comments, so the board will consider them at its meeting on Friday, Nov. 22. 

Belish said that during its last three meetings, the board has had computer science standards on its agenda, but without an opinion from the attorney general, there was nothing that could be done. 

However, she told the committee that the board received Hill’s opinion on Tuesday, which will be considered at its meeting next week. 

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, questioned what the constitutional issues were, but Belish invoked attorney-client privilege to not answer. 

She said the board would talk about the attorney general’s opinion next week and be transparent about its consideration. 

Board of Education Chairman Walt Wilcox told the committee that the board plans to implement the standards by 2023, about a year after the originally slated date.

Representatives from the state Department of Education, meanwhile, said the state’s students have seen increased access to computer science education without the standards.

“I want to point out that this data shows since from 2016-17 school year, there really has been increased student access to computer science,” said Kari Eakins, the department’s chief policy officer. “A lot of districts are making substantial progress toward the implementation. We currently have 907 secondary students enrolled in a computer science course, but only 196 of them are female.” 

She added in her presentation that secondary school teachers will have to obtain certification to teach computer science, but elementary school teachers will not.

Members of the public testifying during the hearing, such as state Rep. Sara Burlingame, thanked the Education Committee for working to get the standards in place.

However, several also noted that the standards should be in place as soon as possible so young students can begin learning computer skills.

“If we lose those critical years, we’re the ones who pay,” Burlingame said. “Our students pay, but our economy, our workforce that doesn’t have those skills, we’re the poorer for it. I hope there’s a level of excitement that the state of Wyoming decided to invest in this. We’ll work out these bumps together. This is a neat thing we’re doing here.” 

Computer science education still not in many Wyoming classrooms — nearly 18 months after bill signed

in Education/News/Technology
computer science standards
2369

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Learning computer code, using it to create programs and understanding how information is broken down and delivered by networks are just some of the dozens of computer science lessons that could be taught in Wyoming public schools. 

However, the speed of creating statewide computer science and computational thinking standards isn’t exactly gigahertz per second. 

Nearly 18 months have passed since then-Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill creating the standards. Since then, they have been written and rewritten. But for the past five months, the Wyoming State Board of Education has been in a holding pattern, waiting for Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to opine about whether they could pass a constitutional challenge.

There’s no word yet from Hill, who didn’t return a message about why a formal opinion from her office is taking so long, or what that opinion will be. 

On Friday, Wyoming education officials are to testify before the Joint Education Committee, meeting in Cheyenne, about their progress. The committee sponsored the 2018 bill that created the standards

“We’d like to know what the delay is,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, a committee chairman. “We’d like to know what was in the (request) to the attorney general and what the attorney general’s decision is because it could affect all standards in Wyoming.”

After the bill was signed, a committee of computer scientists, teachers and others looked at computer science education standards in other states – such as Oklahoma – and at recommendations by professional associations. They used those to create Wyoming’s proposed standards. 

In January, the state school board sent the standards out for public comment. Elementary school teachers had concerns about learning the various new requirements when they have to teach other subjects as well. The committee returned to the drawing board between March and April.

The committee released another draft of the standards – some would be mandatory, some would support the mandatory standards but would not be mandatory, and some would be “enhanced,” which would also be optional.

Two Wyoming Attorney General office lawyers who advise the board were concerned that they were unconstitutional, since some school districts would be able to offer all the standards and others would only be able to offer the mandatory ones. The Wyoming Constitution requires public instruction to be “uniform.”

In June, the state board wrote a letter to Hill, asking her to study the issue and write a formal opinion.  

“We believe that will help us — not just with computer science but with other requirements,” said Sue Belish, state board vice chair.

Lawmakers and education officials need Hill’s guidance because creating mandatory and supplementary standards could affect education in other subjects besides computer science. 

Another likely delay

But even if Hill could clear up the board’s questions in short order, it may still take a while for computer science education to arrive in some Wyoming classrooms, said Astrid Northrup, an engineering professor at Northwest College in Powell.

Northrup, who is married to Rep. Northrup, was involved with efforts at the University of Wyoming to look at computer science teaching standards even before the effort was under way with the state board. 

Some school districts, especially those already teaching computer science, will be ready to adapt to the standards. Others will have to catch up, she said. The Wyoming Professional Standards Teaching Board has computer science teaching criteria. It may be unrealistic, however, for elementary school teachers, she said. 

“I think we have to lock that down,” she said. “I think that piece needs to be locked down in a realistic manner.”

Targets of online vitriol agree: Digital civility is improving

in News/Technology
digital civility
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, is arguably one of the most active Wyoming politician on social media. 

He boasts around 3,500 likes on his public Facebook page and just over 1,600 followers on his Twitter account. He’s considered “very responsive to messages,” according to his Facebook page. He regularly posts videos of himself chatting in his car about stances he has on various issues, news stories (both political and not) or even fun Wyoming historical facts. 

“I’m the most followed politician in Wyoming,” he said. “Now, you have to remember that it’s Wyoming, so the number isn’t huge. But I do a lot on social media because it’s a great avenue to talk with people.” 

Lindholm regularly engages with his commenters. He takes his social media presence seriously. For the most part, people are kind, even if they don’t always agree with his views. 

As a die-hard Republican, it’s common for Lindholm to have detractors. That’s fine, he has a thick skin and can deal with that. 

The death threats get a little old, though. 

“Absolutely people have said horrible things to me online,” he admitted. “People have found my political page and have called me names and started to send me and my wife nasty messages on our personal accounts. I’ve definitely had death threats, but most of the time I ignore them. A couple years ago, there was a guy out of Pinedale who sent me something and that was the first time I took it as a credible threat.”

It’s not easy being a politician in the social media age. Democrat, Republican or independent, there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with an elected official. 

While some critics might send an email, write a letter or call their elected officials to explain why they disagree, others will personally attack these politicians online. 

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, admitted he used to get an inordinate amount of threatening emails, but thankfully the number has tapered off in the last couple years. He said it wasn’t because people got nicer, unfortunately. They just realized the emails could be traced. 

“When I first proposed the idea of tolling on Interstate 80 eight or nine years ago, I got emails calling me everything but a civilized person,” he said. “I still occasionally get them, but I think the majority of those emails are coming from truckers in other states who drive through Wyoming.”

While the nasty emails have decreased, Von Flatern noted he still gets criticized by constituents in public forums, such as on social media or in comments sections of the state’s newspapers.

Von Flatern and Lindholm agreed that they’re always willing to talk with dissenters, but when people begin to verbally attack them, their families or loved ones, that’s when they shut the conversation down. 

Lindholm compared the current social media landscape to the Wild West, where people are still figuring out how to properly communicate. 

“It’s a cool concept, because we’ve never had such a freedom where we can communicate with elected officials,” he said. “But there are positive and negative aspects to it. You just have to remember the positive.” 

Psychologist Lisa Taylor, who also works as an adjunct professor at Laramie County Community College, did admit that there is a lack of civility online, especially in regards to politics. 

But she actually believes the landscape is getting better, not worse as many would like to believe. Von Flatern and Lindholm agreed. 

All three believe that people are emboldened by the anonymity that the Internet provides, where they can say whatever they want and won’t experience any real consequences. 

“There is a way to fix this issue: we have to find forums to talk about issues in a respectful manner,” Taylor said. “I don’t think we have to agree on these issues, but we can at least disagree in a civil manner and move forward. Maybe we have to recognize that the Internet isn’t the best way to have some of these tough conversations and we have to engage in another way.” 

Taylor pointed to a recent story about talk show host Ellen Degeneres and former president George W. Bush, who were photographed sitting together and laughing at a football game.

Degeneres stated on her television show that she was friendly with the former president and stressed she believes in being kind to everyone, regardless of differences. Taylor agreed with Degeneres and applied that sentiment to citizens engaging with elected officials. 

“You can’t walk into these conversations with the goal of changing someone’s mind,” she said. “You can have a discussion and share why you think they’re wrong, but when you go in with the mindset of completely changing someone else’s opinions, you’re just going to get upset and frustrated.” 

Lindholm, Von Flatern and Taylor agreed that people engaging with others online about a topic they feel passionate about should take a moment to make sure they are clear-minded. 

They should also ask themselves whether they would say something impassioned to the face of the person they are communicating with. If so, the message or comment should be sent. If not, the person should come back later and try to write something passionate, yet polite. 

Lindholm and Von Flatern want constituents to reach out when they agree or disagree about a stance they have. They encourage it. 

But once name-calling, cursing or being a “Billy Badass” (as Lindholm calls it) begins, people shouldn’t be surprised if there’s no response.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying that we can agree to disagree,” Taylor said. “I have faith that we can get back to being more civil. We just have to remember things aren’t as black and white as we believe.” 

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