Inauguration Attendees Use Smartphones As Public Diaries

Jan 21, 2013
Originally published on January 21, 2013 5:26 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


The Presidential Inaugural Committee might have its first-ever smartphone app, but for the hundreds of thousands of onlookers who flooded the National Mall today, there were plenty of other reasons to be clutching a mobile device. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, many of them just wanted to say: We came.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: All you need to do is look at Tommy Alter's iPhone case and you can tell right away who he voted for. It's emblazoned with the red, white and blue campaign logo of President Obama. Even the button on the bottom of his iPhone is wearing its own Obama logo. Alter is a senior at George Washington University, and he's standing near the Washington Monument posting photos on Instagram with his friends.

TOMMY ALTER: We've all done one.

AUSTIN WENDER: It's a multiple Instagram day.

ALEX GRIFFITH: This is a two-a-day for sure.

ALTER: No, this is probably four or five, honestly.

CHANG: With Alter are Austin Wender and Alex Griffith. They all say, yeah, the people at the Capitol look like tiny ants from this distance, and, yeah, what we're seeing on the Jumbotron is probably what we'd be watching on TV anyway if we were at home. But Wender says today is about telling the world: Look at me. I was here.

WENDER: It's so other people can live vicariously through my amazing life, seriously.

CHANG: The inauguration of 2013 is the smartphone inauguration. The website for the congressional committee in charge of the inauguration used GPS technology to direct ticketholders to their seats, and even the Secret Service was tweeting up a storm about street closures and parade routes. But it was hard to find anyone using any of that. Mostly, people were just using their phones as public diaries, like Evelyn Quinn.

EVELYN QUINN: No, no regular cameras. No pen and paper. Just our phones. And we don't even think we're going to make phone calls. It's purely for documentation.

CHANG: Of course, part of that documentation means reporting on the reporters themselves. Tommy Alter and his friends asked me to pose with them for their latest Instagram photo. Alter starts pounding out the photo caption with his thumbs.

ALTER: Chilling with Ailsa Chang from #NPR and then maybe just say: Great times, something like that? No, not great times. Not great time.

WENDER: Chilling on the grass during inauguration.

CHANG: Why wasn't it great? You haven't had a great time with me?

ALTER: Not great, not - no. We did have a great time. But, yeah, that sounds, like...

WENDER: Chilling on the grass during inauguration.

ALTER: That sounds kind of lame.

CHANG: I called Alter on the phone a little while after that. He informed me that group photo on Instagram had already received dozens of likes, and someone had posted a comment that read: I love your life. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, on the National Mall. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.