Starved for Attention

What I Did for ‘Like’

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In this social media-saturated (and social-media-about-social-media-saturated) era, in which both of my parents, one of them an octogenarian, have active Facebook accounts, and in which people who have told me to my face that they do not understand Twitter themselves have a couple thousand followers apiece on that very service, drawing attention to one’s writing or art or craft or charitable work without purchasing advertising time on the radio to scream for 30 continuous seconds can seem daunting. For me, a naturally quiet sort, sharing the publication of a new piece feels unnatural, like actually recording that 30-second Janovian advertisement. Screaming is so unseemly.

(Perhaps I will go ahead and record that.)

In the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore film, “Bedazzled,” poor Stanley Moon (Moore) wants the affection of Margaret (Eleanor Bron). The Devil, George Spigott (Peter Cook), offers him seven wishes to win her. In one, Stanley is a gold-lamé-costumed rock star whose new hit song “Love Me!” drives all the young women, including Margaret, wild. The lyrics, and Moore’s performance, are little more than him screaming for 30 seconds, “LOVE ME!”

The very next act, Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations, wins the entire screaming audience over to the Devil, George, as he speak-sings his dripping contempt for their affections towards him. “I’m self-contained. Leave me alone,” goes the new hit, and his dry loathing for them makes the women in the audience desire him all the more. Stanley gets run over by the crowd that once briefly adored him as it rushes to the Devil at the end of his song. (The video clip that follows below the fold here both takes up too much space and is set too loud. Brace your ears.)

 
I want to be like George Spigott, the Devil, and declare my lack of outer needs like affection (so banal) and love (so, ugh, human), so that all life-forms on planet Earth will run over each other to cover me in kisses, but really, I am like Stanley. Further, even the thought of wanting to be like the Devil makes me that much more like Stanley, too.

The social media revolution was a long time 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? So why does it feel like it does? And I’m retired!

Here’s a small brag. For two years, I have been writing since the start of the year about Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who is in prison for his writings and was found guilty of “insulting” his nation’s official religion, Islam, so he was flogged in January 2015 as a part of his sentence. I am far from a solitary voice in this: hundreds of thousands have signed petitions and tweeted and re-tweeted their protests, thousands of people have attended and are attending weekly protests in cities throughout Europe and America, hundreds of activist-journalists are writing about this story. His name is spoken every night at concerts by famous performers, and his wife, Ensaf Haidar, is tirelessly working for his freedom by traveling to capitals of nation after nation to meet with politicians of every political stripe. My dozen-plus columns about this amount to one drop in a large bucket that keeps needed to be switched out for a larger bucket.

In August, the Guardian, a large-circulation newspaper in the United Kingdom, published a very moving profile of Ensaf: “Wife of Raif Badawi: ‘All of this has taught me to be stronger’,” in which I appear. A Tweet of mine, not one of my columns, was included as representative of things average people are Tweeting. That Saturday morning, I started to read the article because it might be something I would include in a future column of mine, and as I scrolled down, I saw Tweets from people whose names I recognized from this fight and then, two-thirds down, my own face:

 
The Guardian’s website, which the article appeared in, is the most-read news website in the United Kingdom.

Back-patting over with. It was a Tweet, not a column (even if it was a VERY well-written Tweet), and I still had to pay for dinner with my girlfriend that night. No one recognized me at the restaurant. I still put my pants on the same way in the morning: both legs through at the same time. (That last part is not true.)

It provided a tiny boost in my “metrics,” and it slightly affected my Klout score. Wait, what? You know, your Klout score (mine is 60), a social media tool that one can use to measure on social media one’s social media measurements of one’s social media social media measurements.

(Perhaps I do not fully understand what a Klout score is, measures, or means.)

The American corporate world introduced the idea of measuring everything many decades ago, but in the late 1990s employees discovered that their continued employment depended 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” right after 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 all still scribbling notes more furiously than students in a freshman philosophy seminar.

But the metric kept being changed! 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. The key metric was superseded by a new one, often. For a year or two, I was required to report the average number of pages per document completed. Then it was pages per document per day. For a while, it was the number of documents. (My daily report of “one-and-a-half” raised eyebrows.) Perhaps my supervisor’s metric for her supervisor was the accumulated number of metrics used to measure our metrics.

Some time after that one, I was let go. A bad attitude has no metrics.

Even a self-obsessed ten-year-old does not count their number of friends each day. But we all can now. (Friend me here: Mark Aldrich or like me here: The Gad About Town.) The fact that a number exists, is knowable, and can be recorded does not make it a statistic, much less a statistic worth reporting. Everything can be counted, from the number of hairs on my head (many) to the number of times I have attempted this count (one). Everything in the universe can be counted, and that number can be known and disclosed, but the fact the fact exists does not make it information.

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This topic has been visited thrice before: “I, Toward a Metrics of Me” and “Put a # on It” and “What I Did for Like.”

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for July 10 asks us to reflect on the word, “Desert.”

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