Last night, while President Obama made his address to the joint session of Congress, some lawmakers in the room were apparently less interested in hearing his plans than in providing their Twitter followers with mundane streams of consciousness.
As the Washington Post hilariously reports, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) tweeted as Obama entered the chamber, “One doesn’t want to sound snarky, but it is nice not to see Cheney up there.”
“Capt Sully is here — awesome!” typed Representative John Culberson (R-Tex.), who also live-streamed his breathless walk to the House floor for the speech using his camera phone and Qik, a Marc Andreessen-backed startup.
As Post columnist Dana Milbank notes today, “It’s bad enough that Americans are paralyzed by economic jitters. Now the president has to deal with lawmakers paralyzed by Twitter. At a time of national emergency, when America needs the focused attention of contemplative and reflective lawmakers, they are dispatching rapid-fire thoughts in 140 characters or less.”
Earlier this week, a British scientist caused some hubbub when she wondered aloud if too much time spent on Internet social networking land might change how the brain functions, shortening attention span. I’m starting to think she might have a point after all.
Some members called it a new age of transparency, a bold new frontier in democracy. But to view the hodgepodge of text messages sent from the House floor during the speech, it seemed as if Obama were presiding over a support group for adults with attention-deficit disorder.
And it wasn’t just Twitter. “I’m broadcasting live from the middle of Independence Avenue,” announced Culberson, in live streaming video on Qik.com. He jammed his 8-gigabyte camera phone into the faces of three Capitol Police and demanded that they introduce themselves. They did not look happy. “The presidential motorcade will be coming from where?” Culberson asked. “What time are you expecting him to arrive?”
“That’s classified,” an officer replied.
Culberson continued to narrate his walk to the House floor for the speech: “I think that officer there is carrying a fully automatic weapon. . . . I suspect there’s a James Bond type or two around this building, probably up there in the Capitol dome.” Huffing and puffing as he climbed the stairs, drawing odd glances, Culberson went on. “I’ll do one more broadcast and then I will tweet from the floor.”