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What's the Real Reason So Many People Use Social Media?

Posted by Joe Clarkin on 11/12/14 10:00 PM
Topics: social media, facebook

In her article for the Washington Post, writer Caitlin Dewey says that the answer to our titular question is numbers. And in social media, numbers are everywhere. People are constantly competing to see who can get the most likes on their Facebook status, or the most retweets for their clever one-liner, et cetera, et cetera. But what would happen if you removed all of those numbers from a social media site like Facebook? Well, that's exactly what Dewey explores in her piece, a portion of which we have excerpted below. You can find Dewey's full article here, and we encourage you to read everything she has to say on the subject!

If friendships were ever about quality, rather than quantity, that certainly isn’t the case anymore: Virtually every Web site that governs our social interactions these days puts numbers front and center, like a bold-faced, numerical tally of your precise social worth.

Three hundred Twitter followers. Five hundred Facebook friends. A mere three upvotes on that link you posted to Reddit a full three hours ago, which means it really kind of bombed. I even have a friend who watches the number of Instagram likes his pictures receive, deleting the ones that fail to “go double-digit.” As if there were anything in the world more arbitrary than whether nine or 10 people heart that highly filtered photo of your last meal, anyway.

The quantification of our social lives is intended, presumably, to give some shape to our otherwise amorphous interpersonal interactions. But as a startling new paper by the artist and developer Benjamin Grosser makes clear, all these numbers are having a more insidious effect, as well: They’ve become the primary measure by which we judge whether our friendships, and our lives, are valuable or fulfilling.

Since 2012, Grosser has published an intriguing, infuriating browser plug-in called Facebook Demetricator, which — as its name implies! — essentially removes all the numbers from Facebook. No friend counts. No event invites. Demetricator even masks dates, so you can’t tell exactly when something was posted.

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