Here, near the shore of Santa Monica, we see ICANN in its natural habitat – doing nothing

Bods agreeing on little at crucial meeting

Every professional has job-specific nightmares. It could be a doctor delivering a baby from the Exorcist, or an engineer standing on a bridge that collapses.

If a professional facilitator were to wake up screaming, in a cold sweat, they would likely have been dreaming about a meeting just like the one currently taking place at the Penthouse of the Meridien Hotel in Santa Monica, California.

There is quite a lot at stake: a fundamental disagreement over how the organization that will shortly run the top level of the internet should be allowed to make decisions, and how and whether those decisions can be questioned.

It has taken a year of solid work to get to this point. But there are just two days to reach agreement if a critical deadline is to be reached.

Which makes it all the more mind-numbing that by lunchtime on the first day almost nothing of value has happened.

As has become the cultural norm at ICANN meetings, the difficult discussions have been consciously and actively pushed out of the conversation through judicious use of agenda items and presentations. Sessions are chaired, rather than facilitated.

There are roughly 80 people in the room. At one particularly tedious point, we counted just 14 people paying any attention whatsoever to discussions. Everyone else was staring at their laptops. During a quick wander over to the coffee station, it became clear that most were catching up on emails; some were reading newspapers; one was taking repeated selfies of himself.

Everyone is on auto-pilot. The words drift into people's ears and out again. When there is a sudden change in tone, a dozen eyes glance up and read the last few lines of the running transcript on the huge screen on the left. Another dozen click on a different tab in their browser – the one running the virtual version of the meeting – and look over to the transcript.

When what was just said is soaked up, some note it down. Others get on instant messenger with their group of peers and quietly reinforce their existing views with each other. Then everyone gets back to email/selfies.

For the past hour, the room has been discussing a single issue that has already been largely agreed to. There are just 16 hours in total available. The progress is not just slow, it is bordering on irresponsible.

When the break for lunch is called, the dreaming facilitator is finally shaken out of her reverie, sits bolt upright in bed, heart pounding. Oh my god, what a horrible dream. If only it were.

Every bit as productive as it looks

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