As I flipped channels last night, wading through the cable news networks' pre-game shows before Joe Biden and Sarah Palin's vice presidential debate, I picked up my iPhone, launched the Facebook application, and updated my status: "Andrew is: debate prepping."
Now, that's not so surprising. I've been a little too tied to my new favorite gadget these past couple weeks, and, despite my better judgments, have fully bought into the Facebook craze.
What surprised me was that I wasn't alone. Within minutes, four of my friends had done the same thing.
"Well, at least I'm not the only Facebook-politics nerd," I thought to myself. But the status updates and wall posts didn't stop when the debate started.
With moderator Gwen Ifill's first address to the camera came another post: "Green? She's wearing green?" And with the candidates' first appearance, another round of comments: "Nice to meet you. Can I call you Joe?," and "Her bangs are distracting me."
When Facebook introduced its "News Feed" in 2006 there were shouts of protest and calls for the feature's repeal. The instantly updating log of your friends' updates to their profiles was called an invasion of privacy. But once people learned to control their personal privacy settings, so that their relationship status updates, photo comments, or wall postings didn't get advertised to 300 of their not-exactly-closest friends, the fervor died down. And last night the News Feed brought us together.
An impromptu online party
It was as if we'd all come to a debate watching party, only we weren't whispering our comments to the person next to us on the couch, we were sharing them with all our friends, spread out all over the country. I asked what a "Bosniak" was and shared my enjoyment of the way Sen. Biden emphasized "Bush's" over and over.
This was fun. Every dodged answer, every nuance or verbal gaffe brought more from the world-wide peanut gallery:
• Joe Biden likes to refer to Joe Biden as Joe Biden
• Palin says 'Maverick' more than McCain says 'Miss Congeniality.'
• If they keep referring to McCain as a maverick, they're going to ruin Top Gun for me.
And the barbs came too, from both sides. One friend's status said she "really doesn't have time to get into the subprime mortgage crisis so she'd rather talk about the energy crisis." Another poster told friends she "wants you to come with her to Home Depot, where she spends a lot of time." And policy was fair game, too: "Small businesses are not people. Tax at will."
And nobody seemed to be able to decipher the 'Joe Sixpack' references.
• Is she referring to abs or beer?
• I need to get to the gym a little more before you call me 'Joe Sixpack.'
• Is it a type of gun rack?
More immediate than the spin room that would follow the candidates' closing remarks on cable news networks, and more personal than a political chat room where the wonk on the other end of the modem might have nothing in common with you, this was a social network in action. Where else could I get: "The VP debate didn't live up to its billing. Not unlike the Matrix sequels."
Mobile social networking
What made the interaction more amazing to me was that many of the Facebook posts came in labeled as from mobile users – these weren't people sitting at their desktops, sending updates through Internet Explorer. Many were typing on Sidekicks, Blackberries, and iPhones. And at least one of the campaigns is picking up on that.
Obama on the iPhone
The Obama camp launched an iPhone application Sept. 28th. It makes innovative use of the device's capabilities as a phone, personal organizer, and web device. I downloaded it to try it out (it's free) and it's pretty slick. From the Obama blog:
The application has a "Call Your Friends" tool that helps you organize your contacts by key battleground states – a feature we're hoping will generate thousands of additional personal contacts. You can also easily mark reminder notes to yourself on which friends you have called, who they are supporting and who wants a reminder call on Election Day.
The tool was developed by three Obama developer volunteers over three weeks, the BBC reported. It isn't clear if the McCain campaign has a similar application in the works, but a search of the iPhone Application Store Thursday night found nothing from the rival camp.
Both of these – my impromptu 'Facebook live' debate-watching experience and the Obama iPhone application – point to new ways technology is enhancing the way voters interact with the election process. However these next four weeks turn out, it's an exciting time to be young, wired (or is it wireless?), and voting.