Getting ‘liked’: The internet’s measurement frenzy affects our self-worth

I have 8,818 emails, I’ve tweeted 944 times, and I’ve liked other people’s tweets no less than 6,446 times. But why is this information available at all? Our other actions online and in the physical world are not measured or calculated in this way. I don’t know how many different cars I’ve driven, how many times I’ve surfed The Atlantic, or watched a YouTube video of Captain Von Trapp singing “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. The Internet not only remembers and produces a popularity contest that does not end with the display of likes, shares and follower counts, but also obsessively reflects on us what we do, how much and when. But for what purpose?

This is simply ridiculous. On the most technical level, there’s no disputing the unfortunate fact that I’m really the one who hasn’t deleted thousands of emails and liked other people’s tweets thousands of times, so what’s the point of knowing? Why does Google or Twitter think I find it engaging or interesting, and if I don’t say anything, I feel like I’m holding up meaningless and outdated content that I have no idea what it’s about?

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In fact, the measurement objective includes complex causes, layers of technology, and product designers involved in the ongoing struggle for power and control in the Internet business. Along the way, it also creates and describes new and unusual behaviors.

In 1975, Charles Goodhart published an article on monetary policy in Great Britain. In the book’s introduction, he jokingly wrote, “Any observed statistical pattern will tend to collapse once it is pressed for control.” What Goodhart is trying to establish is that measures as goals lose their meaning because at that moment they become omniscient. A professor from LSE who has published many articles in respected journals and served as a consultant to the Bank of England will be remembered. mainly because of that sentence known today as Godhart’s law. The basic idea behind it is intuitive: as soon as you want to measure or achieve some result, anything will be done to achieve that goal, even at the expense of neglecting or damaging other measures. or standards. The Internet is no different. Every time a measurement is made, it in turn shapes our behavior to monitor that data.

These metadata, the little numbers that appear next to actions on the web such as the number of emails or unread emails, retweets, shares or views, guide our self-worth and serve as pseudo-objective means of assessing nature. content or user. A lot of YouTube views gives us credibility, quality or importance; Few views often indicate marginality, inconsistency, and lead to a general doubt in credibility. When a tweet with a lot of likes appears in the feed, we will immediately read it as more important. If we happen to visit the same tweeter’s profile and see that they have tens of thousands of followers, we will immediately appreciate that they are probably worth it.

Today, the claim that high numbers are the ultimate goal in all of these indexes has been amply validated, as they represent activity, presence, and dominance on the platform. Some people are obsessed with how many Twitter followers or likes they get. They want to have the most, the most, the most. These usually include users who record imaginary numbers or guarantee certain actions if other numbers are reached. “If this tweet gets 100 shares or likes,” the template says, “I’ll share some valuable information or insight with you on this or that topic.” Other times, they’ll celebrate a random round number like a thousand, five thousand, or more followers as a milestone, or share how many “unread emails” they have as proof of their importance.

But on the internet, a sense of accomplishment can come from low numbers. For example, in the “unread emails” example, low numbers may indicate someone who is actually completing all of their tasks. Likewise, the 8,818 emails piling up in my Gmail inbox seem like glaring evidence of my inability to separate, delete, and sort. personal stuff, the unpleasant feeling of hoarding, never mind that I’ve had this Gmail inbox for almost 20 years. After all, if these were real letters, it would not be intolerable or reasonable for me to keep them in my house. Similarly, the relatively low number of Tweets indicates self-monitoring or filtering skills, so that every thought that crosses the user’s mind does not immediately become speech in the public sphere. The user may also be careful about following a few people. their indifference to creating a supportive community around themselves or caring about what specific people have to say about the world.

It has been documented for years how the measurement of activity that is seen “on us” or “achieved” affects the internet. A lot has been written over the years about how collecting “likes” or “followers” on TikTok, Instagram or Facebook will create a new type of consumer culture: consuming “likes” means being recognized. Today, it is widely accepted that this dimension motivates users to produce responsive content. Over the years, the reactions on the networks became more and more extreme, tending to be more childish, mean and nasty. Measurement has made the internet so toxic that in a moment of weakness in 2019, Instagram announced that it would try to phase out like counters and redesign profile pages to make them less noticeable than before.

But the way “our” performance is measured also has a significant impact on behavior. A post that doesn’t get too many likes or shares on Facebook, Twitter or TikTok can be deleted, as if all its quality and relevance is determined by its success rate alone. Sometimes we delete a reply to a post that doesn’t get any response from its creators, perhaps because the lack of response will be interpreted as coldness or indifference, and we want to remove things from the internet that might seem unhealthy to an outside observer. tracking of users. Rules upon rules are unconsciously dictated by the internet’s autoquantity.

It does not matter for different social networks and platforms. Investing in creating quality, compelling or provocative content to see the indexes rise means spending long hours on those platforms; Investing in deleting tweets, emails, and also people you follow or are friends with on Facebook means spending long hours on these platforms. In any case, the goal is achieved. The only time an effort was made to challenge this was with the invention of some browser add-on that artificially removes the ability to see metrics – every tweet appears unliked, every influencer seems to have no followers, every tweet has no history.

Goodhart’s Law is turning in its grave, and content can suddenly be king again. Eliminating metrics not only puts content at the center, but also makes the internet less toxic and a little freer from the judgmental act of measuring our behavior and reflecting it back to us. It is important to remember that the good life was never imagined by philosophers in frozen numbers. A prosperous society is always defined by open and flexible thinking, numbers do not shape our choices about what we write, how we act and what we say.

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