The internet works more like recess than congress. If you want to feel that difference at a visceral level, close your eyes and imagine the sound of a playground full of kids: it’s an overwhelming collision of screams and laughter and tears; there’s no centre to the sound, just countless constellations of activity forming and falling apart all around you. Now imagine the sound of a congressional hearing: it’s structured and orderly and one-thing-at-a-time; even with your eyes closed you can clearly feel the fixed lines of power and authority in the room.
The more time all of us spend in a never ending electronic recess, the more intolerable participating in anything that resembles congress is going to become.
Last year, Zuckerberg sat in congress and answered questions for five intolerable hours. It wasn’t the length of the hearing that made it unbearable. Even though our attention spans are dwindling, most of us are happy watching hours of conversation unfold on YouTube. But this wasn’t a conversation. It was an awkward performance by a bunch of bad actors. What made the hearing unbearable was how ridiculously rigid and scripted it all was. It was so painfully out of tune with our electronic culture that it seemed to be deliberately designed to be ignored.
Can an empire founded on the spirit of the printing press survive in an age of electronic networks? That was what the Zuckerberg hearings were really about.