February 07, 2012, 10:00 AM —
There's a pretty important nugget buried at the end of this NPR story about the Obama campaign's tech spending. To most people, the fact that the campaign has dropped more than $40,000 at the Apple Store is the detail that's the most fun, dovetailing nicely with the image of Obama's posse as a group of elitist techno-aesthetes. (This despite the President himself having a well-documented addiction to that dorkiest of smartphones, the BlackBerry.)
But perhaps the most important tech purchase -- or at least the most indicative of the candidate's strategy -- is saved for last by NPR: the campaign is buying hundreds of Square readers, little dongles that plug into a headphone jack and instantly turn your smartphone into a credit card reader. There are a number of reasons why this is such a big deal. Let's start with the obvious: money is the lifeblood of a political campaign, and, despite all the happy talk about turnout and voter enthusiasm and what have you, what any political organization wants first and foremost is money coming in, because that money buys ads to pump up voter enthusiasm and vans to drive voters to the polls.
Thus, anything that represents a window by which money can fly into campaign coffers is to be coveted. More to the point, to use a perhaps overused tech-biz buzzword of the moment, Square readers allow that money to fly into campaign coffers frictionlessly. The days when people walked around with their checkbooks on a day-to-day basis is long gone, and campaigns probably are uncomfortable accepting big wads of paper money -- but just about everyone has a credit or check card in their wallet. An eager Obama volunteer looking to raise money for the president no longer has to wait for their mark to come back with a check the next day or give money on the campaign Website, and maybe change their mind: now they can say "If you'd like to contribute, I can help you do that right now."