Though you may think social media is really all about interacting with other people and sharing your life experiences, it's not. Quantity trumps quality when it comes to social media.
Don't believe me? When you update your status on Facebook, do you constantly refresh in the hope that you see "Like" after "Like" roll in? Do you shed a tear when you notice you've lost a Twitter follower? Does the sight of that little, orange notification in Instagram showing how many people have "Liked" your photo bring a smile to your face? Social media is run by numbers, and we're all just pawns in their little game.
But what would happen if you took all those numbers away? Artist Benjamin Grosser examined just that in a new paper published Nov. 9 in the journal Computational Culture. Grosser found that metrics used in social media drive our appetite to receive more likes, comments and other interactions of that nature. Oh, that's why it's so hard to tear ourselves away from social media.
In 2012, Grosser published a browser plug-in called the Facebook Demetricator, which, as the name implies, removes all of the numbers from Facebook. That doesn't just mean the number of "Likes" on your posts and those little red numbers showing you how many notifications you have go away. You also won't see things like the number of upcoming events, how long ago a post was published or the number of mutual friends you might have with some rando on the social network. If you'd like to live a demetricated life, you can head over to Grosser's website to download the extension now.
The quantification of Facebook has a profound effect on how people use the social network and how it makes people feel about themselves and their social interactions. For starters, Facebook's design conditions users to think that "more is necessary" because the more friends you have or pages you "Like," the more active your News Feed becomes. The same thing goes for our friend count, whose display and the "+1" in front of the green "Add a Friend" button also encourages us to keep adding more friends. "Likes" also act as a form of social and symbolic capital, showing how connected you are and your social standing.
The goal of these metrics for Facebook is quite clearly to increase user engagement. If you want more of something, you will use it more. However, wanting more of something also produces a lot of anxiety among Facebook users. Grosser writes in the paper that "as we wait for more 'likes,' as we look for more quantitative evidence of acknowledgement from others, and as everything gets old right before our eyes. We are left with a need to escape that anxiety, and the easy way out is the metric more.'
However, Facebook becomes a very different place when you remove all of that. The focus is no longer on how many people "Liked" your status but on who liked it and what they said about it, Grosser writes in the paper. In a way, a demetricated Facebook takes the pressure of the social network's interactions away, but at the same time, it seems to make people less social on Facebook.
It's nice that Facebook without numbers makes the social network a more peaceful place to be, but doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? For me, I'm not sure if I'd be so eager to log on to Facebook if I won't be notified about any new updates upon my arrival. And as Grosser has shown, that's exactly the point.
Image: Ksayer1 / Flickr