Fenno Runs for Congress

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Fenno gasped and exclaimed, “No, he didn’t. Hamsters?!” He had, at some point during the previous year, realized it couldn’t hurt to cultivate friendly relationships with some of the faculty’s secretaries.

In fact, it had been an excellent idea; not only had he managed to slip several of his late seminar response papers into already collated piles, the project had also led to the most enlightening gossip sessions over a cozy cup of coffee.

Today, he was sipping the French roast he had taken a liking to from those nice coffee machines they had installed in Griswold. He sat on the desk as the chatted, swinging his legs and idly flipping through a stack of clerkship recommendation letters.

“You know, you could be useful and start signing those, Fenno,” she said. He picked up a pen, and started scribbling illegible signatures on the bottom of the letters. Ooh, that one looked like an octopus.

He was just about to ask about the post-hamster emergency visit, when a tall, willowy-looking man wandered into the office looking mildly annoyed.

“Professor Palfrey,” the secretary said, looking surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“Would you believe,” he said, sounding surprised “that I’m slated to teach two classes next term? And that one of them doesn’t even have a co-teacher to do the grading? I mean, that will cut into my Facebook time! I’m looking for someone to teach the class with me.”

“What’s it on?” Fenno asked curiously.

“Oh, I don’t know. We’ll just say it’s Web 2.0 and make students develop the curriculum through their blog entries and in-class presentations.” He brightened a bit at the thought of all that time he wouldn’t have to spend lecturing.

“Hey, Fenno,” he asked, “Any chance you’d be interested in live blogging on a side screen during my class? It doesn’t seem fair that Zittrain’s the only one who gets to have real time, user-generated content in his classes.”

But before Fenno could answer, Palfrey’s cell phone pinged.

“Hello? Yes, this is Palfrey. Yes, I have a few minutes now to discuss my quote for that Time article. Thanks for getting back to me!” Palfrey wandered off, presumably back to the Berkman Center whence he came.

“That was odd,” the secretary shrugged.

But Fenno wasn’t paying attention – he had, he realized, the glimmerings of an idea.

Early the next morning (well, 11:00), he weaved his way through the construction and headed straight toward the hinterlands – 23 Everett St. and the Berkman Center. He had never been there before, and was surprised to find it a fairly quiet office building instead of the LOLcatesque Internet fantasy land he had always envisioned.

There were, however, a disproportionate number of guys in skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts. He stopped one.

“I’m looking to harvest the Internet for fame and self-gain. Have you seen Professor Palfrey?”

The guy gestured somewhere in the bowels of the building, and Fenno wandered off in that direction. Hah, there he was playing with a dog.

“Now, now, Mrs. Beasley,” Palfrey said to the enthusiastic pup, “You have to play nice or you’re going home.”

“John, could you move her a little to the right? She’s out of range of the webcam,” Zittrain’s voice boomed out of the computer’s speakers.

“Sure thing, JZ. Could you distract her for a few minutes? I need to finish this comment on net neutrality for some reporter at the Washington Post.”

“Professor Palfrey,” Fenno said, trying to sound young and hip, while hiding his aversion to small, cute animals, “I have a proposal for you.”

When he left the Berkman Center, Fenno thought he had reached a wholly satisfactory solution. The next day, Palfrey’s course had been changed in the course listings to “Political Advertising and the Internet: A Real Life Case Study” and Fenno had himself a new Facebook group: “Draft Fenno for Congress.”

The life of a U.S. Representative was going to be sweet. Fenno sent invitations to all 450 of his closest Facebook friends, and sat back and waited for the Internet to work its viral magic.

As primary season rolled around, Fenno was shocked at how well his plan seemed to be working. Plus, he was currently playing some 347 games of Scrabulous with his many friends and supporters, meaning he was never going to run out of things to do in class again.

So, all things considered, he was a little surprised when a Berkman Center techie IMed him one morning to tell him that, it turned out, nobody without a Facebook account had heard of him.

“So?” he said, “I have 15,000 pledges of on-line contributions.”

“When they average 10 cents a pop, that doesn’t add up to much, Fenno,” he said frustratingly. “If you want to make it to the general election you’re actually going to have to campaign.”

Fenno sighed. Well, that just wasn’t worth the trouble at all. Fenno set about recording a classy video withdrawing from the race, thanking his friends and supporters, and promising not to reexamine their Scrabulous games.

He had to say, he was a little disappointed to wake up the next morning to nothing but a notice that unless he ceased and desisted his Scrabulous use he would be sued; a Facebook message from Palfrey asking if their co-taught class was still good to go; and dozens of messages reminding him to nominate someone for the Gary Bellow Public Service Award. It was tough being a has-been.

Although, maybe Fenno could get a nice public service award out of his failed Congressional bid. He set about creating a new Facebook group: “Fenno’s Your Bellow Fellow.”

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