The New Republic held a discussion in New York City on Thursday night about whether Twitter, in the magazine's words, has "made democracy impossible." Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, and PayPal founder Peter Thiel spoke with TNR publisher Chris Hughes about the influence new technologies have on modern political discourse and the democratic process.
The pair’s ideas on the topic were as varied as a millennial’s twitter feed, and the evening included conversations on everything from how to keep the U.S. technologically relevant to Thiel's million-dollar interview question. For a talk on social media, it was only fitting that the room in which the conversation was held included a giant projection of constantly scrolling tweets.
Huffington and Thiel talked about the challenges of democratic representation in a time of constant digital connection. Huffington said she actively engages in social media but tries to put limits on herself -- for instance, she said she maintains a "no devices" rule in her bedroom. Thiel expressed a more cautious approach to the option avid social media users have to live-tweet every moment from breakfast to bedtime.
Thiel said he wasn't sure that Twitter is the place to solve complex problems. “Some problems require more than 140 characters to solve,” he said.
When discussing the current polarization of politics, Huffington and Thiel both said the U.S. has reached an age of “political atheism.” At another point in the conversation, Thiel also described modern politics as “tribal.”
“You’re trying to get your tribe to beat the other tribe,” he said. “This does not work in a globalized world, because in a global world there’s no outside left.”
Huffington and Thiel agreed early in the panel that they both read and enjoy certain print publications. Later, Huffington described the importance of “unitasking,” even as tweets from the audience continued to scroll down the screen to her right.
“We think multitasking is an efficient way to live … It is not,” Huffington said. When Hughes turned the focus to Thiel for his opinion on multitasking, he kept it short and simple.
“I agree with that,” Thiel said of Huffington's repsonse.
The two also discussed matters far outside the sphere of Twitter.
When asked what would be their first action if elected president of the United States, Huffington was quick to answer.
“Well first of all, I would appoint Peter Thiel as energy secretary,” she said, to laughter from the crowd.
And what question would Thiel potentially ask those who might work for his department under a Huffington administration?
Earlier in the evening, Thiel had revealed one of his favorite interview questions: "Tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on."