I recently wrote a piece about the music scene looking at how some of the hottest new artists are getting radio airplay but failing to register on the public radar. I put this down to a number of things, but perhaps one of the most unexpected causes was the manner in which the Internet is conditioning us to like people not on merit, but based on whether or not they’re going to like us back.
More than ever, we’re aware that our own popularity is determined by how much we like, or at least pretend to like, other people. And online, that creates a very distorted picture of success, in which those who constantly go around pretending to like everyone, themselves register a much higher status as measured by the Internet’s scoring systems. Indeed, as I described in Why You Shouldn’t Delete Your Likes on Tumblr, many socially driven platforms are set up to reward the people doing the ‘Liking’ more than the people whose work gets ‘Liked’. If ‘Liking’ gets no reward, people won’t do it, and if people don’t do it, users will go elsewhere for their ego-massage.
But the distortion this can create is probably more profound than most people realise. The egotistical, give-to-receive factor doesn’t merely boost use of the ‘Like’ button – it accounts for more or less every click!…
There’s a page on another of my blogs offering some freeware I created for musicians. To date it’s had about fifteen and a half thousand page views, resulting in almost as many downloads. A number of big, authoritative sites have linked to the page, and, completely unprompted by me, various musicians have made YouTube videos using the software.
Clearly, there’s a fair amount of interest in that page. At the bottom of the page, there’s a Google +1 button. How many +1s has the page had? One.
I’m not on Google+, so I’m obviously not going to reciprocate with +1s in return. Therefore, no one’s remotely interested in using the button, and I’m left with this embarrassing measure of interest, which doesn’t in any way represent the reality. Meanwhile, countless people who do use Google+ can sling three sentences of “news” together (well, it was news, about a month ago), in someone else’s words, and get so snowed under with a shower of +1s that they need a liberal dose of anti-smugness potion merely to keep their feet somewhere in the vicinity of the ground.
I’m really not bitching about this, by the way. I’m thankful that my pages have shown obvious evidence of genuine interest, and I’d much rather have thousands of page visits than a big pile of +1s and no perceptible traffic. But that doesn’t change the fact that the measures being used online to convey to the general public what’s great and what’s rubbish, don’t work. In fact, they’re not even designed to work. They’re designed to exploit people’s egotism for the purpose of generating traffic for the host site, and to profile Web users for the purpose of marketing.
BUT IS THIS REALLY A BIG PROBLEM?
The reason this sucks is not because Facebook, Twitter, WordPress or whoever are making capital out of people’s desperation for attention. It’s because the whole system is suppressing real talent, by saturating public consciousness with the work of those who shout the loudest. Empty vessels make the most noise, so any system which panders to those who do the most badgering, yelling and fake ‘Liking’ will inevitably result in a creative and qualitative void.
I explained in my Low Self Esteem article some of the reasons why people who are driven to push their creativity the hardest, will not badger others for attention. I also explained in my Social Phobia Online piece how the indignity of asking for ‘Likes’ or expressions of interest (which is crucial to success when the competition is doing it) is offputting for some of the quietest and most contemplative Internet users. The result? Well, the whisper of talent, originality and creativity is drowned by the scream of “Me! Me! Me!” from the emptiest vessels. What you get, is a high profile for those who ‘Like’ for attention and are constantly in everyone’s face, and a low profile for those who spend their time creating rather than badgering.
Of course, I dare say there’ll be one or two people who’ll only look at the title of this piece in the WordPress Reader and experience a little “ping!” moment upstairs. “Great!”, they think, “If I ‘Like’ this post I’ll probably get a ‘Like’ back in return.” But nope. The title isn’t an offer – it’s a summary of the sad truth about the Internet. In fact, maybe I should turn this into an experiment to find out who actually does read what they’re ‘Liking’?… If you’re genuinely reading this post, let me suggest that whatever your evaluation, you DON’T ‘Like’ it. I can provide a little encouragement for you to comply with that by saying that I definitely WILL NOT come and ‘Like’ you back. You’re not going to gain anything from ‘Liking’ this post, so why bother?…
If any ‘Likes’ do appear beneath this post, you can now be fairly sure the ‘Likers’ were not interested enough in it to actually read it.