Technology is sometimes blamed for obscuring facts — too many screens, showing too many perspectives and not enough context.
At this year’s Democratic National Convention, tech companies from Instagram to Microsoft set up shop in the Wells Fargo Center to plug their wares and — in some cases — shed light on the electoral process.
By one entrance, Instagram set up a selfie station, where attendees can pose in front of an American flag. Near talk show row, a van-sized white pod promises to take your vital signs but the touch screen stalls on the second prompt.
Parked at the cutely branded #Tweetshop, Twitter’s head of news, government and elections, Adam Sharp, looks at displays showing which parts of Monday night’s speeches got the most tweets per minute.
“We can see, before speakers even left the stage, what moments people are reacting to, what topics what themes what speakers are driving the conversation heading into the next day,” he said.
Twitter also gives an indication of how messages conveyed at the conventions play with people watching from their couches — not the convention floor.
“These are pageants intended to motivate voters at home, [that means] understanding what themes are driving their attention, what speakers are resonating, what sound bites are getting them energized,” he said, stepping into a glass-walled booth billed as a place for delegates to Periscope their constituents.
After each night of speeches, Twitter crunches the night chronologically and isolates which periods have the most tweets-per-minute — their rubric for impact.
Monday night, the big winner was Michelle Obama, whose speech prompted three of the biggest spikes of the day. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren followed, with Sanders having a sustained level of activity throughout the day.
Touching an electoral map
Nearby, Microsoft has set up six-foot-high interactive map of the electoral college. One side of the screen shows how each state and how many college votes it gave the winner in cycles past.
Passersby stopped to tap each state, turning it from blue to red and back to blue, watching the electoral college count change if say, Ohio, went for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in November.
“I’m from Kentucky. As a Democrat, this is not going to happen,” he said, tapping his state from blue to red.
He briefly engaged a political operative from Iowa, who did not want to be quoted but argued that minority voters have not been getting enough coverage in the media. This being the Democratic National Convention, both bet on a big win for Clinton.