The Boston Globe recently launched a new app that allows its users to monitor the primary election results as they happen. The app refreshes automatically every 15 seconds and does not require the reader to pull down the page to get the information to update. According to an article by Laura Hazard Owen for the Nieman Lab, the app gained a lot of attention during the Iowa caucus and has had people posting about it since. In the article, the Boston Globe’s digital design director Michael Workman talks about the excitement surrounding the app.
“We had a lot of people who enjoyed staring at it,” said Workman.
The article’s title states that it will keep users “glued” to their phones. However, while it is great that election followers now have the ability to check up on the election results and get a quick update, the ability to update to the point of mindless staring seems obsessive.
It is easy to feel anxious about the outcome of the election, and it is natural to want updates. However, I have a feeling that staring at the app for the whole evening – maybe leaving the app for an occasional tweet – is not what it was intended for. The reason that the app updates every 15 seconds is so that users get the most up-to-date information possible, and can carry on until they check back later. However, tweets about being “addicted” to the app carried on throughout Iowa’s primary election.
It makes sense that people might watch the app all night. The minute-to-minute nature of news is now very engrained in our culture because mobile media makes it possible to gain that sort of access.
According to a study published in Psychology Today by Dr. Larry Rosen, psychology professor at California State University, people under 40 tend to have an obsessive-compulsive type attachment to their phones. In the study, Dr. Rosen explains that addiction is fueled by a desire for pleasure, while obsession is fueled by a desire to relieve anxiety.
For people under 40, the ratio of anxiety relief to pleasure for motivation to look at their phone is 3:1. What are young people anxious about? According to the study, it is a fear of missing something. Young people are anxious that they will miss the updates and the notifications. It could be that the same principle follows in the checking of the Globe’s new election app.
What everyone must remember is that, beyond our own ability to vote, we have no control over the election results. It is easy to get caught up in the fervor when we are constantly getting updates over every little move a candidate makes.
Ultimately, however, it is irrelevant. All of the he-said-she-said hoopla during a campaign matters very little during a presidency. Watching every percent that a candidate rises will not change the results or make them come faster. Not every post and tweet from your friends matter.
Having technology that makes communication and the sharing and dissemination of information so easy is a wonderful thing. However, it is just as important to keep the use of that technology in perspective. The ability to watch the numbers come in for an election and to know that you are receiving those numbers in as close to real time as possible is amazing.
By the end of the night though, whether you checked the app eight times or 80 will not have an impact on the results. The presentation of the app in the Nieman Lab article as something that people will, as Owen put it, “mindlessly watch” is a reflection of a common trend in media and media sharing. There is a large part of our population that is so concerned with taking in information, but forgets how to put it into perspective. We are supposed to occasionally check our phones and mobile media. We are not supposed to live on it.