Election junkies, pining for a fix

The Baltimore Sun

For month after month after exhausting, exhilarating month, Catharine Robertson took her first sip of morning coffee while gazing at political Web sites. National Public Radio, which she kept on almost every waking moment, became her life soundtrack, and political bloggers her best friends.

So when Barack Obama won the presidential election Tuesday night, ending Robertson's constant stream of hypotheticals, life as she'd come to know it essentially stopped.

She and millions of other hard-core election-data addicts woke up yesterday asking: Now what?

"I feel like we reached this huge milestone ... but what is there this morning?" Robertson, a 39-year-old Baltimore Web designer, says with a laugh. "I've got nothing. What am I going to do?"

This election season has been as long as it has been intense. In its wake are lost souls hitting the "refresh" button on their Web browser, uncomfortable with the lack of tension and still hungry for the latest polls, the latest mud-slinging, the latest anything.

Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Boston, thinks "addiction" is probably too strong a word to describe what people are grappling with. But she thinks the glut of media options certainly enabled obsessive Americans to indulge - or overindulge - in election-related news, opinions and humor.

"I think that the new media technology has allowed people to connect and communicate in a way they've never been able to before," she says. "Everybody wants to be part of historical events. ... To be able to say I was there. I was watching the votes. I was contacting my friends. I was contributing to this."

The Web site Slate posted an article yesterday with the headline "No More Palin, No More Polls: How to kill time online on the Web now that the election's over."

Its ideas included following the financial crisis or joining a specialty online social network, like Ravelry for knitters or Dogster dog owners.

But it's not quite the same.

Debbie Taylor says that since Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee, she has devoted "a three- or four-hour block" every night for reading HuffingtonPost.com, three or four newspapers' election articles and The New York Times' political blogs, and then watching Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

"I'm an African-American, and I was a little cautious about whether this was really going to happen," she says about Obama's win. "It all went back to not quite believing. I was constantly looking for verification."

Months ago, Jeff Lewandowski got hooked on fivethirtyeight.com, which didn't exist before this election cycle. Named after the total number of electoral votes, the site uses polls and demographics to predict results.

Lewandowski, a 31-year-old numbers wonk, loved to wade into the site's heavy statistics. He'd check it before work, at lunchtime and after work.

"You could really get in deep with their data," says Lewandowski, who edits a science magazine in Washington. "It was a huge adrenaline rush. I'll miss it."

Lesley Luciani, an art director at a city advertising agency, checked Wonkette.com and Huffington Post every day, and then turned on the TV for even more news. When she left Baltimore last week for a five-day election news "detox" in a West Virginia cabin, she tried to go cold turkey but eventually succumbed to election coverage on MSNBC and Fox News Channel.

She's hoping she'll read novels now that the election is over.

Garret Ohm, a 28-year-old marketing director at a Fells Point firm, is determined to funnel the time he spent steeped in CNN and viral videos into his job.

Robertson might be ready for a little "me" time.

"I'll focus on my own personal life, I guess, instead of trying to focus out there on the country," she says. "I'm not sure if I know how to be happy. I'll see about that."

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