In the interest of full self-disclosure, what follows will disclose nothing about me.
I am a Twitterer. I Tweet. Once a year or so, I will participate in the nightly cocktail party, the veritable Algonquin Round Table, of online wordplay and games that can be found on that social media outlet. Perhaps you’ve seen these games, in which people follow the instruction given in a catchy hashtag, like hashtag (which is this symbol: #) “Add A Word Ruin A Movie.” As in: #AddAWordRuinAMovie. And then a participant, me let us say, will snarkily add a word to a famous movie title to ironically change the entire complexion of the movie. “Midnight in the Olive Garden of Good and Evil” is one that I love but can not claim credit for.
One day last year, the wit-fest of hashtag joking, the hive mind of Twitter intellect, had come up with #DrabFilms, and this was my contribution, and it was met with universal silence:
Not one single re-Tweet on there. Not one “favorite.” Bupkiss.
There is little in the world sadder or lonelier than a one-liner delivered to no one in a crowded room crammed with people ignoring the joke-maker’s contributions. “If a Tweet falls in a forest,” someone philosophically minded might ask, “with no one to re-Tweet it, did it make a sound? Nay, did it even exist?” (There are a handful of congressmen who might have their own answers to this question.)
“I Tweet, therefore I know that I am doing what I told you I am doing once I tell you what I am doing because others tell me that they say that they approve.”
Do I know what I am doing, where I have been, where I am going, who I am with—who I am, even?—without social verification, approval, disapproval, a certain number of thumbs-ups or stars or re-Tweets?
The American corporate world introduced the idea of measuring everything many decades ago but in the late 1990s employees discovered that their continued employment was dependent on finding new ways to measure everything. I remember my revulsion upon hearing the word “metrics” used in a sentence the first time. (For months, I heard the ghost-word “system” every time I heard “metric.”) The precise sentence was, “We are using all available metrics,” and I quickly noticed that no one else at the meeting table was laughing and they were still scribbling notes more furiously than students in a freshman philosophy seminar. For a while, the number of documents I was actively working on was my key metric, I was told by my employer. Then it was the total number of pages. It changed, often, but the accumulated number of metrics used to measure my metrics was never itself added up and counted. For a year or two I was publishing the average number of pages per document completed. Then it was pages per document per day.
Some time after that one, I was let go. A bad attitude has no metrics.
The social media revolution was long in coming and I enjoy it very much, but metrics have infiltrated our lives, even our fun-filled social lives. “How many ‘likes’ did that get?” Does my employment hinge on it? No? Why does it feel like it does?
When a celebrity or otherwise important person finds him or herself in an online controversy, the number of re-Tweets of the news-worthy posting is supplied in news accounts about the contretemps. The fact that a number is available and can be reported does not make it a statistic, much less a statistic worth reporting.
Sadly, I find myself watching the likes and numbers of visits to this web site right here, the one in your hands, every night. “The Gad About Town” is not my employment, it is something I want to do and share. But the fine people at WordPress make the information so easy to find and digest. It is information after all and it looks like an impressive collection of live statistics and it makes me want to have a boss to report it to every night. (So I Tweet it out sometimes, to attract more readers.) “This number of visitors read my work last night, but it is a smaller number tonight. Whycome is that, world?” Sad face.
Never before in my life have I known how many friends I have, but if I wanted to, I could look and see every morning if the number of my online friends is larger or smaller than yesterday’s. Metrics.
Am I my numbers? Am I my metrics of me? Everything in the world can be counted, and that number can be known and disclosed, but more often than not this one fact does not make it information.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 1 asks, “To be, to have, to think, to move—which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?” I Tweet.