To see how much more central tech has become to our lives in just eight years, look no further than this year’s presidential campaign. Facebook, Google, and Twitter have increasingly prominent presences at the debates, help voters connect with candidates, and are strategizing behind the scenes to influence both campaigns and the reporters that cover them, David McCabe writes at The Hill.

Tech’s presence at TV debates has been inescapable, with tweets, YouTube stars, and Facebook data constantly shaping and reflecting what candidates do on stage, and even serving as a platform from which to launch the campaigns of ambitious teens. McCabe contrasts that with the 2008 election, when a single debate hosted jointly by CNN and YouTube was an outlier.

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Some tech tools are helping people connect to candidates on a smaller scale, including Facebook notifications that tell people when to vote, and search results that give quicker access to candidates’ positions. Twitter has become a hot place to discuss candidates and debates live and after the fact, and for the candidates themselves to make cultural connections. Some have even criticized the candidates for not catching up to the nuances of social media fast enough.

Further from public view, though, are the lounges and spin rooms that tech brands have built for journalists covering the debates. McCabe describes them as influence chambers where displays show companies’ data, and reps help journalists learn to use social tools in their own coverage—while also being plied with free food and branded swag.

While companies speaking to McCabe described all this in terms of altruistic “civic engagement,” pushing themselves towards the center of the political debate also clearly benefits them. Campaign budgets for digital ads are on their way to going almost literally insane, and Google GOOG , Facebook FB , and Twitter TWTR want as much of that money as they can get.

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Tech companies’ growing involvement and influence over voters also translates to more direct political pull and even government contracts. In a Microsoft MSFT spokesman’s words, candidates who make it into office after becoming familiar with a company on the campaign trail might someday find themselves asking, “‘Who can help me with tough problems the next time something shows up?’”