The Radical Democracy of the Reaction Video

Ancient leaders gauged their popularity with applause. In Rome, the clapping of a crowd was coded in such a way—variations in volume and in speed and in style—that applause doubled as feedback for the people performing, be they artists or politicians. The crowd’s audible reaction to someone (“audience,” from the Latin for “hear,” derives from the sonic connection between those onstage and off) revealed that person’s standing with extreme efficiency. So applause—an early form of polling, an ancient realization of “big data”—was also a way for citizens to communicate with their leaders, political and otherwise. Reacting to something, loudly and intentionally, was a way for the populace to make their voices heard—such a common way, indeed, as to lead Cicero to remark, “The feelings of the Roman people are best shown in the theater.”

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