In the Idaho House of Representatives, 70 of us sit today on the floor of our two story house chambers where we have our lap tops open and screens lit in front of us. You can hear keys tapping and chairs squeaking in the moments between the speaker's low rote progression through the calendar and procedures of the floor session.
Set in curving rows downstairs and two long, unbroken rows upstairs, we review the legislation we are to vote on by going to the state website where the bills are kept in electronic form. http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/hcal.htm Our voting pad pops up on the desk top when debate is done and it is time to vote. In the old statehouse we had a set of buttons on our desk, a green one for yes and a red one for no. A bell still rings when a vote is called but it is an electronic replication of the old ear splitting metal one in the Capitol building house chambers. At the start of the session this year we had to listen to the many ring tones the staff tested to try to replicate that metal on metal sound.
While we sit on the floor with the bills on the screen before us and access to all of Idaho code, every law, statute and act right there before us as well, http://www3.state.id.us/idstat/TOC/idstTOC.html we might have an instant message window open on our computer and be chatting with someone else on the floor below us or be using our cell phones to text family about our schedule or where we left the truck keys.
In preparation for debate we can visit a web site to help us calculate a lethal dose of arsenic for a bill on water quality standards. When we rise to present a bill, those on the floor below us see us by looking at a TV screen set in the high corners of the room near the ceiling.
It is like we are in many places at once now, like light bends and physical space gets compressed into a black-hole-like space inside this plastic box with plastic buttons which now contains worlds of knowledge and the ability to impact people far, far away in the time light takes to travel. It can be surreal. In a month we will all be home pulling weeds and in many cases standing on ground far from a computer screen. Still, there in our pocket, as the wind blows and the sky turns, a cell phone might ring and in a second we are here again, talking to the Speaker about a bill or agreeing to a schedule for a committee meeting. Lawmaking continues now digitally beyond the reaches of the statehouse. We send digital drafts to agencies, even view revisions on a hand held phone while the dry grass waves and the earth thaws pushing up green into spring.