Essays on Technology and Culture

Keeping Score

In The Circle, the titular company is huge on quantification. This is best illustrated by the project to count the grains of sand in the Sahara, simply because they can. Mae, the protagonist, is tracked relentlessly, her ranking in the company calculated by scores from customers, her activity on social media, the amount of product she moves on recommendation, and even how much she interacts with people on campus. Like the best dystopian science fiction, it’s not a huge leap to The Circle levels of quantification from what we have now. Our scores are self-reinforced for the most part: follower counts, retweets, favorites and likes—but also the numbers in our bank accounts and on our pay stubs. This goes way beyond just wearing a FitBit.

The risk we take when we try to keep score and compete on numbers with anything in our lives is losing perspective. It’s so easy to focus on relentless improvement and quantification in some area that something else falls by the wayside. If we’re focusing on improving our standing at work, it can be detrimental to our relationships at home or our physical fitness. If we focus too much on the surface indicators of physical health, it can be detrimental to our mental health. Concentrate on juicing our follower counts and Klout scores, and it can damage our work and personal lives, too. And to say nothing of the mental stress.

I’m guilty of this as much as anyone. A couple high-profile links to this site this month have spiked my stats to ridiculous levels that I’ve never seen in my entire history of blogging. I want to keep that up, and even in the back of my head, I know I can’t expect to have 1000 page views per day, every day, I look at the numbers, and see the drop off, and disappointment sets in. “I’m doing my best work, aren’t I? Where is the love, the social shares, the invitation to join The Deck or Fusion Ads?” But I’m the only one keeping score here. I have to recalibrate my expectations, and my determine that my worth isn’t based on any number of other people. Yes, it feels great when the numbers all match what I want to feel, but if they don’t, it doesn’t reflect badly on me.

Myke Hurley and Casey Liss talked a bit about this on their new podcast, Analog(ue), and it echoes Myke’s sentiments in a guest post for 512 Pixels he wrote about a year ago. Namely: “Audience Quality > Audience Quantity.” It’s harder to put a number value on the quality of the people I’m reaching—hell, it’s almost impossible. I’m just glad I’m reaching some, and have the opportunity to talk to them, and bounce ideas around, and communicate. I don’t want to put a number on that. Doing so makes it less valuable.