Oh for those halcyon pre-digital days when I wasn’t constantly worried about measuring up. Not that I didn’t comprehend my vast inadequacies back in the Dark Ages, but at least I never quantified them on an hourly basis. How things have changed — and not for the better. From personal experience I can tell you: self-awareness is not all it’s cracked up to be. There’s nothing Zen about checking digital metrics twenty times a day to establish your in-the-moment performance.
Not only is the constant review of one’s personal metrics obnoxiously narcissistic, it’s also exhausting. At a time when I should be focusing on more important things, like what’s the matter with the Red Sox, I’m worried about my pathetically low Klout Score.
Cast your mind back to the Analogue Age, back when there were only a few ways of tracking progress. As recently as the turn of the 21st Century here’s practically the full range of how you could calibrate your own performance:
- Hop on the scales in the morning and check your weight.
- Track the progress on your financial investments when you receive statements in the mail.
- Make a mental note of how many times you are praised by your bosses or co-workers (usually a very easy metric to track given the rarity of these occurrences).
And that’s about it. Maybe you could get a general sense of your popularity by throwing a party and seeing how many people attended, or by counting the number of personal notes you received in the mail, but no one except for a psycho or Upper East Side hostess would actually measure and track this.
With the advent of the digital age I am now constantly monitoring one metric or another. Sometimes this is out of boredom; sometimes it’s anxiety; sometimes it’s because I’ve challenged myself to a goal. Either way, it’s led to a very serious case of neurosis by numbers.
Take my financial investments. I used to be perfectly content to review the performance of my 401k four times a year when the quarterly statements arrived in the mail. But now that everything’s digitized, I log in and analyze the results every day. I’ve even gotten impatient that the numbers aren’t updated until after the Market closes at 4:00 p.m. Really? I’ve got to wait each day to see how much money I made (or, God forbid, lost)?
What’s up with this behavior? Partly I want to make sure that the money’s still there (i.e., to confirm that identity thieves haven’t diverted it to an account in Romania), but mostly I’m tracking the horse race angle: Am I ahead? Am I behind? In truth I’m not much better than a miser like Silas Marner who counted out his gold every night. Not a pretty sight.
Then there are the social media metrics, which really are the devil’s work. Oh, those golden “likes” and comments on Facebook! I’m worse than Sally Field (“You like me! You really like me!”) I’m like a dog constantly waiting to be patted on the head. Getting a sugar rush of satisfaction on Facebook is easy. Whenever I ever need a jolt of personal affirmation all I need to do is post a TBT 20-year-old photo of my then-baby son. Ahhh – Can you believe how cute he was? (like, like like)
Would that it was so easy on Twitter. Sadly, I’m a Twitter flop, hardly ever getting favorited or retweeted. I’ve come to realize that the only way to be a success on Twitter is to already be famous or to be an amazingly prolific joke writer. If you’re a celebrity you don’t even need to work at it. Last spring Jimmy Fallon tweeted “Happy Easter,” which was then retweeted by three thousand followers and favorited by another two thousand. I do not understand why someone would feel compelled to retweet “Happy Easter” from a celebrity; couldn’t you accomplish the same thing with an original tweet of your own? In any event, such is the power of celebrity; and as a non-celebrity, I have a very meagre Twitter following and commensurately poor metrics.
I’m not doing much better on Instagram either. I know the young people are on it, but I don’t understand how it’s different from Facebook, other than the fact that it’s NOT Facebook. I did create an account — to keep up with the times – and do post occasionally, but my metrics are lousy and unsatisfying.
I’ve had somewhat more success with my blog, the very platform you are reading now. WordPress has a “statistics” page where you can see the cold hard truth of how many people read each post. WordPress also has a “like” function, but mine must be broken since so few people like my posts. Every once in a while, though, I’ll post something that seems to generate a little approval, which causes me to check my stats hourly to see how many more people have read it in the intervening 60 minutes.
I used to get more excited about Linked-In. There’s an interesting function that lets you who’s looking at your profile. Just this morning I noticed that the woman who sits three desks over from me in the office had snuck a peek at my Linked-In profile. What was that all about? Maybe I should ask her, but I don’t really want to let her know I was snooping on who’s snooping on me.
And then there’s Reddit, which is verily the spawn of Satan for those of us who get wrapped up in metrics. Reddit is basically a message board upon which you post observations or interesting links that you’ve read online (in other words, you’re telling the world that you “read it”). There are four separate ways to measure your success on Reddit. 1) People can “upvote” or “downvote” your post, with popular posts going to the top of the message board. 2) You can generate a lot of comments, some nice, some extremely snarky. 3) You can get “link Karma,” which are accumulated bonus points based on how many people like your links; and 4) You can get “comment Karma” based on how many people like your comments.
There is nothing quite as crazy as trying to build up Karma on Reddit. I takes a lot of time to find the perfect link (and it has to be a link that no one else has already posted) while writing a catchy observation that makes it stand out from the thousands of other similar Reddit posts. I keep promising myself not to think about Karma, but then I notice that some guy has 20,000 Karma, compared to my own 64 and I feel my own inadequacy all over again.
Social media metrics are silly. I get that. You’d think that medical metrics would be more serious. And they would be if I could ever remember to take by blood pressure. But because my blood pressure device is in the bathroom closet, I always forget to take it, and then when I do remember, the batteries are dead. If Apple could figure out how I could check my vital signs just by pressing my iPhone against my wrist I’d be all set. I’d be checking them ten times a day.
What I DO check ten times a day is the health app on my iPhone. It measures the steps, distance and flights of stairs I’ve achieved throughout the day. But to get “credit” for your ongoing exercise you’ve got to have your phone in your pants pocket, which I don’t always do. So I’m in the ridiculous position of being annoyed at myself for not capturing steps that I know I’ve taken, but which don’t “count” in my health dashboard. If I walk up the stairs and don’t have my phone, I want to go back down stairs, grab the device and walk up a second time just to get the credit. No one sees this dashboard but me, yet somehow it becomes important that my real performance is fully credited there.
And the single worst thing about a serious metrics addiction is that there’s no let-up. Every day brings a fresh demand for more and better performance. Great, I got 25 Facebook likes for a cute baby post yesterday. So what? That was yesterday. What about today? There’s no resting on your laurels just because you had ten thousand steps yesterday.
My problem with metrics addiction would be easy enough to solve. All I need to do is to get a real job that occupies one hundred percent of my attention. These little metric check-ins are only possible when you’ve got five or ten minutes of downtime. Instead of getting up and going for a walk (which would generate 500 much-needed steps!) it’s too easy to switch the screen to Facebook to check out my likes. Or maybe the answer is to just chuck the digital world altogether. Good luck with that!