Spending Election Night Online

I have to admit that I'm a very late adopter. I'm a big music fan, but all my friends had iPods before I ...
by | November 10, 2009
 

Watchingreturns I have to admit that I'm a very late adopter.

I'm a big music fan, but all my friends had iPods before I did. I'm in a job that trades on communication, but I'm not on Facebook. While I've looked at Twitter, I don't tweet or follow. I've never paid for cable TV, and it's been well more than 10 years since I've lived with anyone who did.

Interestingly, when I'm forced for some reason to admit not having a BlackBerry or other smart phone, disbelief has given way to expressions of envy.

None of this seems to matter much, until election night. Even then, it doesn't matter as much as it used to.

Occasionally I've spent election nights providing live coverage to a broadcaster, such as NPR. And I've spent a couple in hotel ballrooms, waiting for the victory or concession speech in person.

But usually I've watched returns with friends. A few of you may remember the 1970s book and TV miniseries "The Last Convertible," which traced a group of lifelong friends through the years. They met up on presidential election nights, to mark the passage of time and lend a sense of changing eras.

For me, it hasn't been a social thing. In fact, the socializing is distracting. You go to an election night party and, well, people treat it like a party. They mingle and talk and root, root, root for their candidates. None of that has been helpful for me.

Usually, I'm just there for the cable hookup, unsocially sitting in front of the TV with a notebook in my lap. (At one time, that meant a paper notebook.) I well remember spending the night at the home of friends in 2000 -- weren't they surprised to find me still up and on their couch at 4:00 in the morning!

In the old days, when I was with a weekly magazine, it actually made no sense, professionally, to stay up to watch the returns. You would know just as much or more in the morning. It was the day after the election when I would have to write up results and profiles or new members of Congress or whoever. Staying up and getting tired was no use at all.

Now that's all changed. You have to stay up. You have to be on top of the results as they're coming in, because people are going to be looking for sources of information in real time. The news, as we well know, no longer waits.

But that works both ways. I get nearly all of my information on election nights now from other Web sites -- whether it's election returns from a secretary of state's portal or simply coverage from a newspaper's site.

If you're trying to stay on top of state and local races, cable is just about useless. My mandate last week was to look at mayoral contests. I'm sure that the cable shows kept an eye on Bloomberg's surprisingly weak showing and no doubt mentioned many times, as they had earlier in the day, that Houston might elect a gay mayor and Atlanta a white one.

But the days when I would stay up watching the crawl on CNN -- which would inevitably go to commercial just as the race I was waiting for would be coming around -- are over. And I don't borrow a cup of cable from neighbors or friends, either.

Spending election nights on the Internet is not the most fun way to go. Right now, at least, it's the most productive.

Story Behind the Story appears every Tuesday.

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