Vanity Metrics

Do you have a Facebook account? If yes, how many “likes” do you receive for a post? Just an average number, please. If you have Twitter, how many “retweets” do you generate? On average, of course. Klout? Do you have klout? What’s your score there?

If your answers contained pretty big numbers, I bet you felt pretty good about it. Right? It made you feel important. See how many “retweets”, “likes” and whatever-points-in-whatever-site do I generate? I am a valuable person. Worthy of… something.

But if you look deep down into those numbers, from a certain level, their substance will start to fade away. Just like using a very powerful microscope, which can go all the way down through cells, molecules and atoms, at that very level where tiny electrons are rotating around isolated nuclei, you realize that the fabric of those supporting numbers is incredibly thin. It almost looks like there’s nothing there.

And. as much as you don’t want to believe that, there is nothing there.

What Are Vanity Metrics?

I don’t know who coined this term first, but I think this is a very good definition of those numbers. It certainly explains at least one reason for using them and, even more, why we’re so attached to them. But what are they, in the first place?

Well, very simply put, vanity metrics are those empty numbers we put on ourselves in order to feel good about ourselves. It’s the imaginary number of imaginary friends who are always there to support us. It’s the stupid prizes we received at unimportant contests, with no real follow-up in our lives. It’s the number of pats on the back we get from our colleagues.

Recently, these numbers invaded our digital life. When email was hype, we may have had that secret thought that we’re an important person, because we received THAT amount of emails. It didn’t matter that 90% of those emails were junk. The mere image of an inbox filled with messages was enough to enforce our self-esteem. Once Twitter and Facebook rose, the number of “likes” or “retweets” vastly replaced the fat inbox. “Likes” and “retweets” are even more important now than emails, and you know why? Because they’re public. Everybody can see now how important we are.

But truth is that all those metrics are measuring pretty much nothing. What’s the good in getting 100 emails a day, if we have to delete 90 of them? What’s the real point? None, of course, those emails have no immediate or really measurable impact on day to day life (apart from the time we spend deleting them, of course). What’s the impact of the number of “likes” we get? Can you name one? A real one, not one fabricated by a Facebook marketing guru? Those guys have a job, you know: to always make you believe that what they sell, namely those “likes”, do have a value. They can be even bought and sold, they’ll say, but so does thin air, if you’re stupid enough.

Why Do We Use Vanity Metrics?

Because we’re not satisfied with the real metrics, obviously. We’re not satisfied with the real amount of money we make. With the real amount of real friends that we have. With the real amount of good days in our lives.

On a purely physiological level, the rise of vanity metrics during the last 5 years, created a huge, digitally distributed, mass self-esteem therapy. The only difference being that there is no real doctor behind it. Which makes it pretty dangerous, if you think for a while.

Bored and demotivated, knowing that our lives suck, we all dive into this ocean of potential validation, and create more and more content. Which, in order to be fancied by more and more people, become more and more shallow. But that’s not important, of course. What’s important is the number of “likes” and “retweets”. The more we get, the better we feel.

At the end of the day, though, nothing really happens. We go to bed exactly the same as we woke up 14 hours ago. Our lives are not better, as we think they are. In fact, they’re even worse, because the only quality enforced by these metrics is, as the name implies, vanity. And, for those of you who didn’t see the Devil’s Advocate movie, the last line of Al Pacino (which plays the omnipotent Devil) is: “Vanity: my favorite sin!”.

Are You Dancing Yet?

Vanity metrics are not new in our lives, though. They’ve always been there, only in a different form. The digital revolution just made them visible. Partly because any information is propagating now literally at the speed of light, and partly because of the low entry level in this world. Pretty much everybody can write something on the Internet today. Which makes this huge free validation field available to, virtually, everybody.

Before the Internet, though, vanity metrics had a different name: they were called “deluding yourself”. You know, as pretending you’re somebody you’re not, because you can’t stand the real you. Pretending you’re a successful business man, while you barely can pay the rent. Pretending you’re a great partner, while you’re just an egotistic maniac. Or, and that may be the most common one, pretending you’re a kind and sensitive person, while you’re just being a heartless bigot.

“What’s wrong with that?” one may ask. Isn’t already proved that the more you state something, the more chances to make that something real you get? Yes, that still holds true. If you state that you’re gonna be successful at something, let’s say, at learning how to tango, eventually you’ll get there. Your thoughts are becoming actions and actions are becoming habits. We all know that already.

But be very, very careful how you’re measuring your success.

Learning tango requires patience, hard work and presence. Looking at other people dancing tango doesn’t require anything.

And yet, one may pretend that he knows how to tango and he’s pretty good at it, just because he goes to every milonga in town and knows everybody on the floor. These are vanity metrics. These are fake signals of your success. By measuring your progress with these metrics, you’re not getting anywhere. Of course, you can get to this level of being a milonga aficionado and a popular person among other tangueros in less than a month. It’s that easy.

But learning tango for real can take you at least a few years. And the only way to measure how successful you are at it is on the floor, in close embrace with your partner, feeling the music. Once you get that right, the rest simply ceases to exist.

Oh, and please do not “like” or “retweet” this article. It will make me (or you, I’m not sure yet) look stupid. 😉