Fenno and the Slow News Day


FIVE MINUTES INTO class, the professor had begun to scrawl his first important point on the board, and Fenno, who knew he was not on call, had already had it. Minimizing his “notes” (about five pages of semi-coherent abbreviations coupled with about fifteen more of cut-and-pasted outlines from friends who had taken the course last year), he rushed to open Firefox, lest the lecture put him to a very conspicuous sleep. Skipping over his homepage (the Bill of Rights, always useful in emergencies), Fenno’s fingers danced across his keyboard as he orchestrated the stroke that would bring him to the motherlode of gossip that had kept him glued to his LCD screen for months: the political blogs.

But what, pray Palin, was this? Faint whispers about 2012? Reports about where the Obamas were eating dinner last night? This was no way to keep Fenno looking as if he were attentively trying to keep his notes in tune with the professor’s comments. Dammit, Fenno thought, this wasn’t necessarily the Change I’ve Been Waiting For.

Sluggishly, Fenno forced his way through the substantially reduced online rumor mill. Sadly, only a few stray tangents (“What’s Bill Ayers up to now?” he thought, finding to no surprise that the old domestic terrorist was attending a lecture by Jeremiah Wright) threw him off-course, otherwise he was through his bookmarks in minutes. Politico, RealClearPolitics, Huffington Post – could none of these transient cyber-newssheets satiate Fenno’s search for procrastination satisfaction?Struggling, he heard the professor’s comments (and the even more inane thoughts of his peers) creeping in. “Isn’t this whole thing just about transaction costs?” one of them interjected. No, Fenno thought, no – he was not going to listen to such inanity. “No, that’s absurd,” the professor rebuked, in turn. Fenno was glad that, for once, they agreed. Still, the onrush of the class discussion (Fenno caught glimpses of phrases like “securities protection” and “judicial economy”) did spark his imagination: wasn’t there a recession on? And wouldn’t it be likely to be burning up the blogs?

Our hero racked his brain for bankers’ bulletins and traders’ tabloids, to no avail. Regretfully, he turned to the one site he knew with a toehold in the financial world: Above the Law. Alas, each post was like a blow-by-blow of Fenno’s future failures: bonus promises belied, famous firms folded. It was as if David Lat had changed his once sonorous tune and were instead performing a death fugue. As he churned through a week’s unread material, Fenno increasingly got the sinking feeling that even the site’s commenters had lost their once spectacularly shameless schadenfreude.

Increasingly despondent, Fenno sampled wares well beyond his usual stomping grounds. IvyGate looked as if it might have been funny, but Fenno wasn’t sure just how many of its readers would get those Cornell jokes about Comstock Hall. Deadspin? Fenno “liked” sports, but like every other law student, “just didn’t have the time” to watch. Names culled from seventh-round draft picks and stats from teams ranging from Arkansas State to S.M.U. whizzed straight over his head.

So, having endured thirteen whole minutes of class, Fenno decided it was time for a break. He set his laptop screen back to the Bill of Rights and excused himself profusely (but quietly, so as not to draw the attention of the professor, who seemed to have otherwise forgotten his existence since calling on him a week into the semester). Despite his best efforts, heads were knocked forward, jackets knocked from the backs of seats, coffee spilled on keyboards, and threads caught in zippers. Exasperated, Fenno finally made it to the aisle, and proceeded to make haste to the vending machines.

* * *

FORTY MINUTES AND two free bags of Doritos later (Fenno had had the goodfortune not only to have one of his bags fail to fall, inviting a thorough session of rapping on the glass until it fell, but to be the one out of a thousand vending machine customers to receive the elusive “***We Have a Winner!***” display – and get his five quarters back), Fenno waltzed back into class. Again he endured the disdain of the thirteen students he had to virtually unseat to make it back to his computer.

Again he surfed through his favorite sites for a full five minutes, desperately hoping some piece of salacious breaking news had erupted during his brief absence. Alas, he would have to turn to the celebrity gossip websites for such minutiae, and he was a Harvard Law student after all. Munching contemplatively on a Dorito, he checked himself with a mental note: keep it together, Fenno, he told himself. Maintain your dignitas.

The clock approached five minutes remaining in the class. Fenno grew increasingly restless as he paged through increasingly less relevant news sites and blogs. Even the addictive online games he’d bookmarked no longer seemed worth it. Fenno writhed and seethed: it was becoming increasingly difficult to tune out the class discussion. Something about negative externalities…something about alienation …Fenno could no longer restrain himself. There was no longer any way to hold back the searing boredom, and not let in the cacophonous din of, of learning.Slowly, timidly, without much fanfare, Fenno did the once-unthinkable: he raised his hand.

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