In today’s digital age, it’s almost impossible to keep conversations private. Every thought shared, even under the auspices of privacy — a personal e-mail, a friends-only Facebook status — could easily become public.
That pressure keeps people on Capitol Hill from connecting in any real way. Or at least that’s the rationale behind former Hill staffer Ted Henderson’s latest smartphone app.
Henderson, who created Capitol Bells, an iPhone app that tracks floor votes taken in real time, has a new toy called Cloakroom that allows anyone with a congressional e-mail address or who is physically on Capitol Hill (lobbyist, reporters, tourists) to anonymously join conversations to see what Hill people are buzzing about.
In its infancy, it appears users are primarily using it to joke in a safe space.
One person under the alias “senmenendez” posted, “Anyone have a good lawyer? Asking for a friend.”
Then “schock” responds: “I’ve got a guy,” and “govmcdonnell” writes, “Don’t look at me.”
(Of course, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) has hired lawyers from the same firm, Jones Day, that represented convicted former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R), but we digress …)
Another user wants the best war stories on “SJL” — Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). Someone responds about the one with the tequila in the House gallery.
Another says an intern dumped a huge stack of constituent mail in the trash in front of visitors from their district. Another wants to know if anyone got sick from the “grill special at the Dirksen cafeteria.”
Henderson hopes Hill types will eventually use it for more serious debates on policy, but generally he just wants it to create a community.
“One thing I found there talking to lifers is that the social environment on the Hill has changed …” he said. “There’s so much camera glare that people don’t have the space to have these backroom discussions they need to have.”
So is this the new smoke-filled room for digital times?
“I hope so,” Henderson said.
The difference of course is that in this room everyone’s invited — but no one knows who they are really talking to.