Shuffling and standing for hours; clutching heat packs in the cold; losing sleep, time, money -- for what, when the Inauguration can be experienced instantaneously on any number of screens?
The collective experience of the end of the Bush presidency and the dawn of the Obama administration can be replicated digitally through Twitter and Facebook and My.Barack.Obama. So why crowd miles from the Capitol in January, just to watch it on a bigger screen?
The (presumed) millions who woke up in the predawn hours and made their way slowly toward the helicopter rumbles seemed to truly believe in the life-changing experience of being there for history. They found meaning in proximity, both to the Capitol and each other. But they were also participating in recording and transmitting that physical moment in a way that was never so visible -- or possible before.
At times, it was hard to see the JumboTron, what with all the digital cameras held up to snap the screen.
"Give me your e-mail address -- I'm putting these photos up on my Flickr page," one middle-aged woman told a new friend, made on the spot.
"We're blogging this," another older woman explained.
Later, someone slowly panned through the Metro station, narrating the conditions for a video filmed by flipping a switch on her point-and-shoot digital camera.
Phone service was spotty, so on the Metro people caught up on their texts. "I watched history," one girl wrote on her Sidekick.
For the first president to successfully marry the digital moment and civic participation, the hordes of citizens-turned-chroniclers was only fitting.